Enforcement of the policy will begin September 13. 

New York City will start requiring proof of vaccination for indoor gatherings, including dining inside a restaurant, according to NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio. 

The mandate is part of a new program called the “Key to NYC Pass,” and encompasses both workers and customers. Other activities such as gyms and entertainment venues also fall under the requirement. Vaccinations will be needed starting August 16, and enforcement of the new policy will begin September 13. Unvaccinated individuals will not have the option of showing a negative COVID test and will instead have to dine outdoors. 

“Not everyone is going to agree with this, I understand that,” de Blasio said Tuesday. “But for some people, this is going to be the life-saving act. We are putting a mandate in place. It will guarantee a much higher level of vaccination in this city. That is the key to protecting people and the key to our recovery.”

The move is in response to the considerable rise of COVID cases. The increase is largely due to the Delta variant, which has accounted for 72 percent of positive samples in NYC in the past four weeks. Because of the growing spread, the CDC released new guidance in late July that recommends fully vaccinated individuals use masks inside public places based in high transmission areas. The change came just two months after the organization said fully vaccinated people could resume normal activities without masks. 

NYC Hospitality Alliance Executive Director Andrew Rigie said mandating vaccines for customers and employees is a difficult step, but added that it ultimately may prove to be a significant move in protecting public health and ensuring that NYC does not reimpose restrictions and shutdown orders. 

“We know that a mandated vaccine requirement will pose economic and operational challenges to restaurants, particularly in communities with lower vaccination rates and hesitancy, however it will also alleviate the burden that restaurants and bars face when implementing this policy voluntarily,” Rigie said in a statement. “While having to require this requirement is far from ideal, now we need government to support restaurants, bars and workers with clear and fair guidelines, and an extensive outreach and education program, while also implementing more policies to support the industry’s recovery.”

The National Restaurant Association also came out in favor of the vaccination requirement. The organization said higher vaccination rates are the country’s best bet for containing the spread of COVID, but emphasized that NYC’s decision will put a new responsibility on the shoulders of operators. 

“Checking vaccination status isn’t like ID-ing a customer before serving them a drink—staff receive training on how to do that,” Larry Lynch, the Association’s senior vice president of science and industry, said in a statement. “Now, without training, our staff members are expected to check the vaccine status of every customer wanting to eat inside the establishment. Last year when mask mandates across the country were put in place, restaurant workers suffered terrifying backlash when enforcing those rules. The Association’s ServSafe experts had to go so far as to create a Conflict De-escalation training module to support those front-of-house workers dealing with customer push-back. We hope that the city will take this into consideration and will work with us to ensure there is clear guidance and support for our workforce.”

NYC’s upcoming rule follows the lead of restaurateur Danny Meyer, who announced last Thursday that his New York-based Union Square Hospitality Group will require all restaurant workers, new hires, and customers to be vaccinated. Employees have until September to decide whether to get vaccinated. On the other side of the country, the San Francisco Bar Owner Alliance, which represents 500 bars, announced that it’s requiring proof of vaccination or a 72-hour negative COVID test before entry.The policy is voluntary, but SF Bar Owner Alliance President Ben Bleiman said 85 percent of bar owners are in favor of vaccine mandates, according to a survey.

In the wake of increasing COVID cases, several markets across the country have reinstalled mask requirements, such as Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, New Mexico, and Nevada. De Blasio has recommended people wear masks indoors, but has yet to reimplement the mandate. 

Consumer Trends, Feature