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Will NYC ‘Vaccine Passport’ Become the New Norm?

New York City has become the first U.S. city to raise the ante by mandating proof of vaccination for certain indoor activities for both workers and customers, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday morning.

That means that getting vaccinated—at least for people 12 years old and up—will be the only way for New Yorkers or visitors to the Big Apple to participate in many of the activities they’re used to. The mandate is similar to Italy’s and France’s vaccine passport programs.

Indoor dining, gyms and entertainment venues are all affected. The new mandate doesn’t yet apply to retail stores, but could in the future. De Blasio said his team will look at other areas where a similar requirement would make sense. A transition period is set to begin Aug. 16, with enforcement starting on Sept. 13.

At a news conference, the mayor said the mandate “is going to guarantee a much higher level of vaccination in this city.” He added that the push to get people vaccinated is the “key to protecting people, and the key to our recovery.”

In fact, de Blasio also noted that New York City will create a health program called “Key to NYC Pass,” which is expected to model New York State’s “Excelsior Pass,” or show the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) paper card that people received as proof for having gotten the jab.

So far in the U.S., the debate has largely centered on whether people should be required to wear a mask indoors again, especially for those who are already vaccinated. Los Angeles County, San Francisco and a few surrounding counties have brought back indoor mask requirements. So too have Washington, D.C. and Louisiana, as well as Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada and New Mexico.

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But one of the outliers is Florida Governor Ron De Santis, who has been adamant about refusing to require mask mandates. Ironically, Florida has broken new records Covid hospitalization rates and is home to one of the nation’s lowest vaccination rates. Most of the newly infected are unvaccinated.

Florida isn’t the only state that’s been reluctant to mandate mask wearing.  According to AARP, the American Association for Retired People, 11 states have not imposed mask mandates at any point during the pandemic. In fact, some states—including Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Montana, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas—have used legislation or executive action to bar local governments from imposing mask mandates.

In general, absent state or local government mandates on mask wearing, businesses and other private organizations are allowed to set their own policies.

The retail sector has been quick to follow CDC guidelines, such as relaxing mask wearing earlier this year for vaccinated consumers. But with the Delta variant causing a spike in new cases, the CDC last month recommended that fully vaccinated people wear masks again indoors in Covid-19 hot spots, areas considered to have substantially high transmission rates. The CDC has also expressed concern over so-called “breakthrough” infections involving those who have been vaccinated. Retailers such as Apple, Home Depot, Target, Walmart and its Sam’s Club warehouse club, as well as some supermarket chains and McDonald’s were quick to require masks wearing for employees, and in some cases also for customers in high-transmission areas.

“Public health and safety is always the number one priority for retailers large and small. To be sure, retailers will continue to follow the guidance of the CDC and other public health experts to protect our associates, their families and our customers. We want every business to remain open, we want to keep people employed, and we want to ensure that consumers have access to the goods and services they expect and need,” the National Retail Federation (NRF) said last month following the CDC’s update on its mask recommendation. “It is truly unfortunate that mask recommendations have returned when the surest known way to reduce the threat of the virus is widespread vaccination. The CDC’s latest guidance underscores the urgency for more Americans to become fully vaccinated so we can all emerge from this pandemic.”

On Tuesday, NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said, “Vaccination is the key to further economic recovery, reopening and rebuilding,” adding that the outlook for the global economy continues to hinge on public health and that vaccine numbers remain important not just for the U.S., but for the world.

In contrast, New York City’s new mandate is different in that it bypasses the mask debate and goes one step beyond by directly requiring proof of vaccination for entry at certain establishments with the possibility of expansing to other indoor categories. And it seems to take a leap forward in line with U.S. President Joe Biden’s push to get as many people vaccinated as possible.

Last month, de Blasio had mandated that all city workers either get vaccinated or get tested weekly. Biden last Thursday issued a sweeping pandemic mandate requiring all federal workers and contractors to prove that they’ve been vaccinated or submit to new rules on mandatory mask wearing and weekly testing. The new federal rules also include social distancing requirements.

Bloomberg reported Monday that the U.S. has reached Biden’s targeted goal of having 70 percent of U.S. adults getting at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine one month later than planned, but the spread of the Delta variant likely has pushed the herd immunity threshold level to above 80 percent.