NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- New York City will no longer have a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for municipal employees starting Friday.
The policy was among the strictest employee vaccination mandates anywhere in the country, and while that has ended, the lawsuits have not.
The city's health department voted to end the policy on Thursday after it had been in effect since October of 2021. The board cited high vaccination rates and case counts that have remained steady, even over the winter.
"The number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths have remained relatively stable over the past months, without the dramatic peaks that we saw during the winter of 2021 into 2022," said NYC Health Department Deputy Commissioner Dr. Celia Quinn.
Mayor Eric Adams said the mandate helped save lives.
"If we didn't have that vaccine and we didn't have those mandates, we would have lost so many more lives," Adams said on Caribbean Power Jam Radio. "I take my hat off to Bill De Blasio, that was a tough call."
On average, just over 1,200 daily cases are reported in the city. Of those, 82 are hospitalized and COVID-19 kills a dozen people every day.
Former health advisor to Mayor Bill de Blasio, Dr. Jay Varma, says he was shocked that the city ended the mandate. He believes it will increase illness, death, and cost.
"Every day, new people enter the workforce, as teenagers become working adults," Varma said. "Given the relatively low rate of vaccination among children, this means that the percentage of the adult population vaccinated will decrease over time, and there will be no mechanism to 'catch them up' as their risk of severe illness and death rises with each year they age and as new variants emerge."
Many city employee unions are celebrating the change. However, a number of public sector unions remain in ongoing litigation against New York City as they try to get their members' jobs back.
The mandate-imposed on all municipal workers-prompted angry demonstrations and a blizzard of lawsuits. Nearly 1,800 workers, including sanitation workers, police officers and firefighters refused the vaccine and were fired.
Their unions are demanding reinstatement and back pay. Mayor Adams says they can re-apply-but back pay is out of the question.
"Nope. nope. Their back pay is the pay they got when they got another job somewhere," Adams said. "New Yorkers should not be paying for someone that wasn't working. They made a decision. People made a decision to not take the vaccine when they were supposed to."
Adams also said anyone who was let go during the mandates will have to reapply for their jobs, "just like everyone else."
Thursday's vote means the city will do away with the requirement that workers show proof of vaccination. It also means that visitors to city schools don't have to show proof of at least one dose.
Health care workers still have to be vaccinated because of separate state and federal mandates.
However, state officials will allow masking requirements in health care facilities to lapse on Feb. 12, lifting a requirement that had applied to staff, patients and visitors in hospitals and health care settings, regardless of vaccination status.
CDC loosened its masking requirements for health care settings in September, but New York continued to renew its statewide mandate.
Now, the state health department acknowledges a "period of transition" in the pandemic, thanks to decreasing levels of coronavirus infections and hospitalizations.
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