New York Offers $100 Incentive for Vaccinations, but Delays Mask Guidance

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Despite the rising number of Delta variant cases, officials said they were not yet ready to follow federal guidance and require masks indoors.

New York City will give $100 to people who get their first vaccine dose at city-run sites.
Credit...James Estrin/The New York Times

Michael GoldSharon Otterman

July 28, 2021, 4:32 p.m. ET

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Wednesday that nearly 130,000 state employees would be required to get vaccinated or face weekly testing, while Mayor Bill de Blasio said New York City would give $100 to those who receive their first doses at city-run vaccination sites — efforts that reflect a growing push to compel or entice holdouts to get vaccinated.

But even as they announced the new measures, designed to address rising case counts of the virus and quell the spread of the more contagious Delta variant, both Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Cuomo said they were not yet prepared to adopt federal guidance that vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas with high coronavirus transmission.

“We got it less than 24 hours ago, and it is complicated information,” Mr. de Blasio said of the guidance, issued this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “So our health team is reviewing, and we’ll have more to say on it in the next few days.”

C.D.C. officials said Tuesday that both vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans should wear masks indoors in parts of the country that have recorded more than 50 new infections per 100,000 residents over the previous week, or where more than 8 percent of tests are positive for infection over that period.

All five of New York City’s boroughs fall under those parameters. Staten Island, which has again become a virus hot spot, recorded 109 cases per 100,000 residents last week, according to the C.D.C.

In Brooklyn and Manhattan, 78.1 and 70.4 cases per 100,000 residents were recorded, respectively, while numbers in the Bronx (58.6) and Queens (56.4) were both closer to the 50-case benchmark set by the C.D.C.

The C.D.C.’s guidance on masks is not binding, leaving it up to local governments to enact policies as they see fit. Currently, vaccinated individuals are mostly not required to wear masks in New York State, though masks are mandatory on the city’s buses, subways and trains, as well as in schools and health care settings.

As they weighed the C.D.C.’s suggestions, city health officials continued to urge residents to get vaccinated. As of Wednesday, nearly 71 percent of New York City adults and 59 percent of the city’s total population had received at least one dose of a vaccine, and more than 65 percent of adults and 54 percent of the total population were fully vaccinated.

Mr. de Blasio has in recent days emphasized the need for vaccine mandates as the pace of inoculations has slowed in the city. On Monday, he said the city would require its municipal workers to get vaccinated or take weekly tests.

But he said on Wednesday that he believed vaccination incentives, which the city has offered for weeks, could still be effective. The $100 payment, he said, was intended to spur action by those who had so far hesitated, resisted or delayed.

“I think when someone says here’s $100 for you, that’s going to make a big impact,” Mr. de Blasio said. The payments will be offered starting on Friday.

Dionne Grayman, the co-founder of We Run Brownsville, a group that promotes women’s health in a Brooklyn neighborhood where vaccination rates are below the citywide average, said that the $100 incentive felt like a “shortcut” that did not address the root causes of vaccine hesitancy and refusal.

She also expressed concern that those who have already gotten vaccinated but were not similarly rewarded would be annoyed. (Such griping spread quickly across social media after the mayor’s announcement.)

“Why would you reward people for being late?” Ms. Grayman said. “In the real world, there are negative consequences for being late.”

Dr. Elisa Sobo, an anthropologist at San Diego State University who studies vaccine hesitancy, said that the payment could be an incentive but suggested it was unlikely to sway every unvaccinated New Yorker.

“Some folks will find the offer insulting; others will use it as ‘proof’ that the vaccine is no good,” she said. But, she added, “There are lots of people who will say ‘why not’ to $100. Some people who have until now been on the fence will see $100 as a good reason to get off of it.”

Mark Levine, the chair of the City Council’s health committee, called the mayor’s decision to focus on vaccinations without even encouraging vaccinated New Yorkers to wear masks “outrageous.”

“The one lesson we learned from his pandemic is you have to act fast. If you are too scared of making a mistake, the virus will win,” said Mr. Levine, who has for weeks called for the return of an indoor mask mandate.

Dr. Mangala Narasimhan, the senior vice president of critical care for Northwell Health, the state’s largest health system, said that she hoped people would follow the C.D.C. guidance.

“I know there is a lot of resistance to this, but this is not over, it is still here, and I don’t think we can pretend everything is better now,” Dr. Narasimhan said, adding that she did not believe the mask mandate should have ever been lifted.

In New Jersey, where eight of 21 counties meet the C.D.C.’s threshold, Gov. Philip D. Murphy and the state’s health commissioner, Judith M. Persichilli, said they “strongly recommended” residents wear masks in indoor settings where the risk of spread may be high.

They specifically pointed to crowded indoor spaces or places where the vaccination status of those present was unclear.

But though the New Jersey officials dangled the possibility of reinstating a mask mandate, they said they were not yet reimposing one, saying that statewide numbers, for now, did not call for it.

“Our numbers are a fraction of those in many other states, most of which have significantly lower vaccination rates,” Mr. Murphy and Ms. Persichilli said in a statement. “Should our numbers reach those levels, we reserve the right to take more drastic action, including a statewide mask mandate.”

In New York, Mr. Cuomo said on Tuesday night that the state was reviewing the C.D.C.’s recommendations. He did not offer more information on Wednesday morning when he announced the new vaccine-or-test mandate for state workers.

Mr. Cuomo’s mandate, which will take effect on Sept. 6, follows both Mr. de Blasio’s announcement earlier in the week and one by Gov. Gavin Newsom of California. President Biden, who had been reluctant to impose vaccine mandates, is expected to announce a similar requirement for all civilian federal workers.

Some private employers have also started implementing such mandates, including Google, which said on Wednesday that it would require employees who returned to the company’s offices to be vaccinated. The Durst Organization, one of the city’s largest private real estate developers, is requiring employees in nonunion positions to be vaccinated by early September or face termination.

Earlier in the week, Mr. Cuomo had shied away from imposing such a requirement on the state’s work force, suggesting it was more of a decision for localities. But the governor’s shift appeared inevitable after Mr. de Blasio’s announcement and news that one was under consideration by the White House.

Mr. Cuomo also announced a much stricter mandate for state-run hospitals, saying that vaccination would be required for all “patient-facing” health care workers at those facilities, without the option of regular testing. The federal Department of Veterans Affairs announced a similar policy earlier this week.

The governor said the state’s new policy was aimed at the 25 percent of adults, or 3.1 million people in the state, who remain unvaccinated. He also said the state would work with unions — which in New York City and elsewhere have pushed back against such mandates — to implement the requirement.

The Civil Service Employees Association, which represents 60,000 workers and is the state’s largest public-employee union, said that it supported the governor’s move.

“We need to continue to be diligent in protecting everyone in New York against Covid, and this helps accomplish that,” the union’s president, Mary E. Sullivan, said in a statement.

But the president of New York State Troopers Police Benevolent Association, which represents 4,000 uniformed State Police officers, said in a statement that the union was “caught off guard” by the governor’s announcement.

“We are reviewing our legal options since we believe this is a change in the terms and conditions of our employment,” the president, Thomas H. Mungeer, said.

Luis Ferré-Sadurní and Jeffery C. Mays contributed reporting.

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