How do New Yorkers feel about unvaccinated tourists in their city?

How do New Yorkers feel about unvaccinated tourists in their city?
Mask Force volunteers at Grand Central-42 St on Thu., February 25, 2021…(Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)

There’s a new NYC lockdown happening, but it’s not what you think. New Yorkers have always had a complicated relationship with the never-ending stream of tourists within their city. Tourism brings in many jobs, people from many cultures and ways of life, and it keeps the city alive even within the coldest months of the year. But city-dwellers can also be annoyed by slow-walking gawkers who seem unable to figure out the numbered streets of Manhattan.

As we slowly emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, though, tourism is back in New York – whether locals like it or not. When the pandemic became truly inescapable in the United States last March, New York was an epicenter of national viral spread, which explains the initial NYC lockdown last year. Given how prevalent the disease was within the city and how fearful locals were, the slow rise in tourism may be bewildering to some. Now, with the COVID-19 vaccine widely available, free to all Americans (including undocumented individuals) and encouraged, New York City officials have begun instating vaccination mandates for many tourism activities. This new NYC lockdown allows locals and tourists alike to be out and about – but you better be vaccinated.

What do these vaccination mandates look like?

Source: Reuters, Jeenah Moon

The vaccine mandate regarding tourism and tourism-adjacent activities has been dubbed “The Key to NYC Pass” by the city’s current mayor, Bill De Blasio. This mandate is being sanctioned toward both visitors to establishments as well as the employees to protect both groups of people and the city at large. The industries affected are indoor-dining restaurants, gyms and fitness centers and indoor entertainment like movie theaters, concert venues and museums.

Announced at the beginning of August, this mandate was meant to go into effect Monday, August 16. It instead began Tuesday, August 17. Enforcement procedures are to be in place by mid-September. You must show proof of having received at least your first-dose (or only one dose of single-dose vaccines) by presenting your vaccination card, New York state’s Excelsior Pass or through the NY COVID Safe app. Any vaccine that has been approved by the World Health Organization is acceptable.

Children under 12, who cannot currently be vaccinated against COVID-19, are still allowed to frequent these places sans vaccination, though they should be wearing masks when possible. They must also be accompanied by a vaccinated party. Unvaccinated visitors may still enjoy outdoor dining and outdoor activities and attractions.

Already, there’s been backlash against these mandates, with a class-action lawsuit against the city of New York currently being pursued by restaurant owners. The restaurant industry as well as the other tourism reliant industries included within this mandate are wary of suffering financial loss due to this new rule.

Tourism was already hit hard by the NYC lockdown during the pandemic. Businesses that do not comply with this mandate can be fined anywhere from US$1,000 to US$5,000. With a US$10 million media campaign on vaccinations aimed at tourists, though, it doesn’t seem like the government is backing down on this one.

How do actual New Yorkers feel about these mandates?

Source: Wikimedia Commons, Christian Alexander Tietgen

Whenever visiting a new country or city, it’s crucial to be respectful to local residents. You may be on a fun vacation, but these places encompass the entire lives of other people. New York City is no exception. When talking about how this vaccination requirement will affect New York City’s ecosystem, it’s not just the tourist’s experiences that are pertinent here. It’s also the thoughts of those who rely upon city infrastructure and economy – i.e., the residents of New York.

TMS spoke with one resident, Jaehee Lee, who was kind enough to share her thoughts on this mandate. Lee lived in a suburb of New York until she moved to the city to attend New York University (NYU) for her Bachelor’s degree. She continues to both work and live in Manhattan, residing with her boyfriend.

“When comparing this summer to the summer of 2020, I definitely see a lot more tourists in the city,” Lee notes. “I live near a couple of hotels, and there are constantly people coming in and out of them with suitcases. I also pass the Times Square area during my commute to work, and I can tell most of the people hanging around are visiting from out of town.”

Her thoughts on the vaccination mandate are straightforward. “Personally, I believe the vaccine mandates are very necessary. There’s so little control of this virus so far, and I feel safer knowing that people near me are doing their part to keep others protected.”

Lee also personally discourages unvaccinated people from coming to the city at all at this time, commenting on how many people from neighboring areas rely upon the city for their work. “I think it’s selfish that people choose not to get vaccinated and then expose themselves to large populations of people,” Lee comments. “Especially considering somewhere like Manhattan, where there is a very dense population. It’s also a commuter city. People are coming in from New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, etc., so if you come into the city and test positive, you’re potentially affecting all the people who make a living here.”

“When the pandemic first broke out, it was honestly a bit terrifying,” she recalls. “There were so many unknowns at that time. Most people had left the city, so for a while, it felt like a ghost town. I remember looking out my apartment window at Union Square and the streets were completely empty. Everything was quiet, except for when it turned to 7 p.m., and all the people left in the city would clap for the health care workers from their windows and balconies.”

Commenting on the economic factor of these vaccination mandates, Lee points out: “Small businesses have been hit really hard in the last year, but at this point, I don’t think the vaccine mandates will make a significant difference. Even though customers who don’t want to comply with the new mandates will be lost, I think there’s a lot more who don’t mind and will continue supporting local businesses.”

New York wants you to come visit, needs you to come visit – but not at risk of falling into a ghost town once again.

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