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Indoor Vaccine Mandate In New York City Raises Concerns For Patrons, Workers 

It’s not clear how restaurants that don’t have outdoor seating will fare, or how large performance venues and gyms will manage.

NEW YORK — As the Big Apple gets ready to require proof of vaccination for indoor dining, gyms and performance venues, many New York City residents are already feeling the bite.

Veronica Kwabla, who lives in Brooklyn, said she postponed dining out with friends last weekend, even though they are all vaccinated.

“We didn’t think it would be good to dine indoors when we don’t know if the customers there are vaccinated or not.”

She said the vaccine mandate will not be good for restaurant owners “who have already lost a lot during the pandemic when we all decided to stay away.” She wants authorities to make exceptions for those who cannot get vaccinated due to health or religious grounds.

Another Brooklyn resident, Ekow Baiden, thinks the mandate is well-intentioned, though he says it “sucks for people who haven’t had their vaccine.”

Emphasizing the need for more people to be vaccinated, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the new mandate on Aug. 3. It will be phased in the week of Aug. 16.

Five million New Yorkers had received at least one dose of vaccination at the time the mayor made his announcement.

“We’re going to go farther with a smart mix of incentives and mandates, because it’s all about vaccination,” the mayor said.

“We’re going to use every tool we’ve got to fight the Delta variant and to end the COVID era once and for all in this city. That means more and more vaccinations, and we know that strong, clear mandates help.”

The mayor’s vaccine requirement also applies to workers in indoor facilities. “This is crucial because we know this will encourage a lot more vaccination,” de Blasio said.

The directives have been met with mixed reactions among residents, businesses and employees.

“Everyone is aware of what is going on and nobody wants to die,” says restaurant worker Shola Oyelohunnu, who is in favor of the vaccine mandate. (Nii Akrofi Smart-Abbey/Zenger)

Restaurant worker Shola Oyelohunnu said customers and staff have a responsibility to be careful around others and avoid confrontations, as has happened over mask-wearing.

“Everyone is aware of what is going on, and nobody wants to die,” she said. “If you must die, you don’t have to take anyone with you, so responsibility is the way. What we have to do is just be polite. If you’re not nasty to customers, the customers will have no reason to be difficult.”

“We have to follow the mandate to the letter because one way or the other, I believe they still have our interest at heart,” says Lookman Afolayan, owner of Buka New York restaurant in Brooklyn. (Nii Akrofi Smart-Abbey/Zenger)

Lookman Afolayan, the owner of Buka New York, a Nigerian restaurant in Brooklyn, knows the pain caused by COVID-19. He lost a friend to the virus, and he contracted it as well but has recovered. He is fully vaccinated and supports the mayor’s mandate.

“We have to follow the mandate to the letter because one way or the other, I believe they still have our interest at heart,” Afolayan said.

His staff is fully vaccinated, and he expects his customers to be vaccinated, too.

“I don’t care if you’re the president or governor,” said Afolayan. “If you are not vaccinated, you won’t come into the restaurant, but we will politely serve you outside. I have a big outdoor dining space.”

Mahady Hassan, manager of Taj Mahal restaurant and Party Hall in Queens, which does not have outdoor seating, is still weighing his options in view of the vaccine mandate. (Nii Akrofi Smart-Abbey/Zenger)

But not all restaurants have outdoor dining structures in place.

At Taj Mahal restaurant and Party Hall in Queens, manager Mahady Hasan is still weighing his options in view of the vaccine mandate.

“Our business is very bad, and with the new rules, I think we will lose more customers,” Hasan said.

Since the pandemic hit, the restaurant stopped renting out its party hall. Hasan was hoping to start renting it out again next month, but that plan has now been shelved. Instead, Hasan is looking to set up an outdoor space for unvaccinated people.

“We already have the furniture and the permit,” said Hasan, “so we will have to start outdoor dining.”

For Queens resident Mark Smith, the new vaccine mandate is a form of assurance.

“I view the unvaccinated as potential threats to my health, as they can easily contract COVID and its many variants,” Smith said. “This mandate gives me peace of mind when in certain public settings, knowing that I have a reduced risk of contracting a harmful variant. We have to pay attention to the science, and the science shows that this rule is a safer path to follow.”

Brooklyn resident Baiden believes the mandate is designed to avoid overcrowding at hospitals as was the case last year at the height of the pandemic.

“I do respect the fact that we have rights,” said Baiden, “but if you end up getting sick, what are you going to do if the hospitals are overcrowded? It’s a sensitive topic because people don’t want to be forced, but I think in the end, it’s for our own good to get vaccinated.”

Queens resident Richard James believes New Yorkers should “get vaccinated and wear your mask and if you’re not getting the vaccine, you should get tested weekly.”

New York City has seen an increase in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalization with at least 1,281 new cases confirmed as of Aug. 11. Fifty-six percent of the city’s residents are fully vaccinated, and 62 percent have received one dose of the vaccine, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

As of Aug. 13, the Health Department reported 998,116  COVID -19 cases among New York City residents. The current population of the city is 8.8 million.

New York City is among the first cities in the country to impose restrictions on unvaccinated residents’ access to certain indoor facilities. San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced a similar mandate for her city on Aug. 12, and the Los Angeles City Council passed legislation on Aug. 11 that urges the city attorney to draw up such an ordinance.

Edited by Judith Isacoff and Fern Siegel