Bronx business owners have mixed emotions about the new NYC indoor mandate that will require employees and patrons to be vaccinated.
On Tuesday, the city began requiring proof of at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination for indoor dining, gyms and entertainment venues for both customers and employees. A CDC vaccination card, NYC COVID Safe app or the Excelsior Pass app qualify as proof.
“If you want to participate in our society fully, you’ve got to get vaccinated,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said when announcing the mandate on Aug 3. The purpose of the mandate is to incentivize vaccinations, fight the Delta variant, and ultimately “end the COVID era once and for all in this city,” de Blasio added.
The new mandate won’t be enforced until Sept. 13, however, to give businesses and the city a chance to adjust.
As of Aug. 16, the Bronx has the smallest percentage of residents across the five boroughs who have received at least one dose of the vaccine, at 54% — just 1% less than Brooklyn — compared to 62.6% citywide and 74% in Manhattan, according to the New York City Department of Health. NYC had a daily average of 1,757 total COVID-19 cases in NYC (1,390 confirmed and 367 probable) over the past week — an increasing trend from a daily average of 1,471 total cases over the past 28 days.
Jose Vanderpool Jr., co-owner of Equis Fitness, 242 E. 137th St., said having another COVID-19 restriction is “more annoying than stressful.” Vanderpool anticipates some members will put their memberships on hold because of the mandate — both out of fear of the virus and out of opposition to the vaccine, he told the Bronx Times.
By lumping gyms in with restaurants, the mandate may lead customers who finally felt comfortable coming in to “feel, actually, it’s not as safe as they thought,” Vanderpool said, adding that there are unvaccinated members, some who are vehemently opposed to getting the vaccination, and others who want to wait longer before getting it.
According to Vanderpool, All the gym’s employees are vaccinated, and they encourage members to get inoculated and explain the impetus for the new protocol — off the gym floor, to avoid conflict during workouts.
Vanderpool said the gym goes above and beyond with safety measures to keep its members safe from the virus, and also to avoid running into trouble.
“We’re pretty much united on the front that we’re going to follow the mandate, because we can get audited,” he said. “We have had neighboring gyms sort of get sprung on with certain things and we don’t want to be caught off guard.”
Bronx Chamber of Commerce President Lisa Sorin told the Bronx Times many businesses in the borough are in support of the mandate. “Overall, we believe this will be effective in pushing the incentive to get vaccinated,” she said.
Since the mandate only addresses indoor dining, bars and restaurants have the ability to offer outdoor seating to unvaccinated patrons, providing more flexibility than most businesses affected by the change in procedure.
But Regina Migliucci-Delfici, owner of Mario’s Restaurant, 2342 Arthur Ave., said she was unsure about the new rule. “Personally, I think it’s a catch 22,” she said. “I don’t know how this will ultimately play out. I think that we will see some loss in customers, depending on how this all works out starting September 13th.”
Migliucci-Delfici also said she believes the mandate breaches customers’ medical privacy and elected officials shouldn’t be making medical decisions.
“I think we will definitely see some customers who are very unhappy about this,” she said. “I think we all have to remember that these officials are not doctors, and shouldn’t act as such.”
Meanwhile, Arthur Aviles, artistic director at BADD! Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance at 2474 Westchester Ave., is in full support of the mandate.
“I appreciate it, because I honestly feel that there are people that are being irresponsible with the lives of other people,” he said. “And to wear a mask or to be vaccinated is a more responsible direction. We have eradicated diseases before.”
The performing arts venue has been hosting mainly outdoor shows, and its indoor performances have been limited to less than half a dozen audience members, Aviles said. Attendees won’t be turned away due to a lack of information because the establishment will advertise the new rule on its website, he added.
Aviles said he appreciates the mayor choosing to follow the guidance of science.
“A government is asking for something that I agree with,” he said. “Something that our organization agrees with. They don’t always do that. The government doesn’t always go in the direction that you would agree with, but in this case, our organization feels this is safest.”
Blink Fitness Gyms, which has 48 locations across New York City, including 12 in the Bronx, declined to comment.
-with reporting by Catelin Bromfield
Aliya Schneider is contributor for the Bronx Times. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter @bronxtimes and Facebook @bronxtimes.