NYC restaurant COVID vaccine mandate: Thousands warned, handful of violations

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Restaurant workers have had to take on a new role recently, in addition to serving food. They've been forced to act as the vaccine bouncers, checking to make sure people have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccines before dining.

It has led to some confrontations and uncomfortable situations.

"It puts the workers in the middle of a very difficult place," NYC Hospitality Alliance Executive Director Andrew Rigie said.

It has been six months since New York City enacted a vaccine mandate for restaurants and other businesses, and 7 On Your Side Investigates found more than 70,000 businesses have been inspected -- with only a handful of fines for violating the law.

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Now, the New York City Hospitality Alliance is calling for the city to review the current mandate in place.

Of the more than 70,000 undercover inspections the city has performed, it has issued about 5,000 first time warnings. The city handed out a total of 46 violations that come with a $1,000 fine.

The few dozen restaurants that received a fine are spread out across the five boroughs, and they range from big name companies -- like a Sixth Avenue Starbucks where a spokesperson denied violating the mandate -- to mostly small mom and pop restaurants.

A pizzeria in Chelsea received a violation, and a man who identified himself as a manager said it was due to a woman buying a slice of pizza to go and sitting down to eat it.

"Listen, any type of business paying a $1,000 fine, it's a lot of money," Rigie said.
Governor Kathy Hochul announced this month that she's lifting most mask and vaccine requirements and leaving it up to local governments to decide. New York City leaders said the vaccine mandate will remain in place for now.

"Restaurants still don't know what has to happen in order for the vaccination requirement to be lifted," Rigie said.

He said the original mandate was put into place for two main reasons, to encourage people to get vaccinated and to the prevent the spread of the virus.

"So the two main justifications for the program at the time don't really seem to apply in the present moment," Rigie said. "We need to be smart. We need to be safe. But we also need government to review these types of mandates."

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7 on Your Side Investigates reached out a spokesperson for the mayor's office repeatedly over the course of four days to find out more about how long the mandate will be in place and what factors are involved in possibly lifting or revising it, but so far, we have received no response.

Many restaurant owners say their biggest challenge right now is the requirement mandating kids 5 to 11 be vaccinated before dining.

They said it's posing a problem for local families looking to dine out and for international tourists who are coming from countries where the vaccines aren't available yet for children.

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