Naia Kete at Lena Horne Bandshell in Prospect Park 8/6 / Everynight Charley

NYC’s New Indoor-Vax Only Mandate Impacts Music Venues

Jerry is an avid buyer of concert tickets, claiming to see over 200 music events each year. He refuses to get vaccinated for COVID-19, however, no matter how many of his closest friends implore him with reason. He responds by citing a negative childhood vaccine experience and various controversial conspiracy theories that none of his friends want to hear. Despite Jerry’s anxiously-awaited year-long wait for concerts to resume after the pandemic closed his favorite venues in March 2020, there is no convincing him to roll up his sleeve. He stubbornly says he will limit his concerts to outdoor venues that admit the non-vaccinated and to shows outside the city limits.

Alice is known in the local music circuit as the ex-wife of a well-known musician. She refuses to get vaccinated. She says she will use a fake vaccination card as needed. She hopes that her fraud will go undetected. Falsification of a governmental document can result in imprisonment for up to seven years.

Jerry and Alice are among the many live music fans that have refused all the governmental incentives to get tested, whether they be school scholarships, transit passes or $100 payment. Maybe a free pair of front row seats to see Pearl Jam would entice them, but maybe not. Despite their protests, Jerry and Alice and thousands of other unvaccinated New Yorkers and tourists will find themselves unable to enter indoor dining, entertainment or fitness facilities starting today.

The Key to NYC Pass 

Mayor Bill de Blasio today announced that the Key to NYC vaccination mandate for indoor dining, entertainment, and fitness will start tomorrow, August 17. Emergency Executive Order 225 was published today after his media advisory. Enforcement will begin, with a multi-agency coalition, on September 13. 

“New York City has one mission: defeat the delta variant and build a recovery for all of us,” said de Blasio. “The Key to NYC sends a powerful message that vaccination will unlock our city’s potential, and we’ll stop at nothing to save lives and keep New Yorkers safe.”

De Blasio originally announced on August 3 in a media advisory that all indoor dining, entertainment, and fitness facilities must require customers to show proof of COVID vaccination for entry. Acceptable proof of vaccination includes at least three options: a CDC-issued vaccination card, the New York State Excelsior Pass, and the NYC COVID Safe App, which allows those vaccinated out of New York State to show proof of their status. The mayor hopes this mandate will create safer environments and will encourage more people to get vaccinated.

Unlike in the past, neither the state or city government is implementing any additional safety protocols. Social distancing, capacity limits, curfews, and contact tracing will not be mandated on indoor businesses. Outdoor venues will not fall under the mandate, although they may chose to opt into the vax-only policy.

“The Key to NYC Pass will be a first-in-the-nation approach,” said the mayor on August 3. “It will require vaccination for workers and customers in indoor dining, in indoor fitness facilities, indoor entertainment facilities. This is going to be a requirement. The only way to patronize these establishments indoors will be if you’re vaccinated, at least one dose. The same for folks in terms of work, they’ll need at least one dose.”

De Blasio’s Emergency Executive Order 226 was published after his media advisory today and can be reviewed here. The executive order allows for several exemptions. For instance, unvaccinated individuals who are masked may enter a “covered premise” for “a quick and limited purpose (for example, using the restroom, placing or picking up an order or service, changing clothes in a locker room, or performing necessary repairs).”

Surprisingly, the executive order allows unvaccinated nonresident performers a pass. Under the exceptions to the executive order, section 2B exempts “a nonresident performing artist not regularly employed by the covered entity while they are in a covered premises for purposes of performing.” They “may enter a covered premises without displaying proof of vaccination, provided that such individuals wear a face mask at all times they are unable to maintain six (6) feet of distance from other individuals inside the covered premises.” If they are New York City residents, however, the performers must be vaccinated.

Section 4D allows a traveling musician’s unvaccinated road crew into the venues. The exemption allows “a nonresident individual accompanying a performing artist … into a covered premises as part of their regular employment so long as the performing artist (is) performing … in the covered premises.” As with the performer, the unvaccinated road crew must wear a face mask whenever they come within six feet of others.

The implementation of the executive order will be accompanied by a $10 million awareness campaign, as more than 500 staffers embark visit businesses on a door-to-door listening tour to help the staffs understand the new mandate.

Today begins a four-week honor-code grace period, allowing businesses to acclimate and the city to make adjustments. Inspections and enforcement are scheduled to begin on September 13, a week after Labor Day weekend. No penalties will be issued until September 13.

Galdort Gumbo & His Righteous Cats at the Bitter End on July 29 / Everynight Charley

The “Early Adapters”

Last week, de Blasio applauded the New York City businesses which he called “early adopters.” The 50 facilities he named were among those already requiring customers to show proof of vaccination for entry before the August 16 mandate. The live music venues he applauded included Arlene’s Grocery, the Bell House, and City Winery NYC.

“More and more businesses have already adopted our Key to NYC requirements and are becoming public health heroes in the process,” said de Blasio. “I thank each and every one of them for doing their part to keep New York City safe. My message to New Yorkers is clear: if you want to enjoy everything New York City has to offer, get vaccinated today.” 

The lack of a published document until today caused confusion among venue operators, however. One club’s booking agent contacted by The Manhattan Beat thought the new rules were effective in September. 

Most venue operators are ready to start asking customers for their vaccination cards, though. Several have been asking for proof since reopening, including Arlene’s Grocery, the Beacon Theatre, the Bell House, City Winery, Mercury Lounge, Radio City Music Hall, and Terra Blues. Others implemented a vax-only policy in recent weeks, including the Bowery Ballroom. Even some outdoor events, including SummerStage Central Park, the NYC Homecoming Concert, and Global Citizen, will enforce a vax-only policy. Beginning Aug. 19, attendees of BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival in Prospect Park must show either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to entry.

Responses from Downtown Music Venue Operators

Since reopening on June 6, Terra Blues immediately implemented a ‘fully vaccinated patrons only’ policy and began carding at the door,” Deidre Bird, Office Manager at Terra Blues, told The Manhattan Beat. “The owner predicted that vaccine carding was an inevitability, so we decided it was best to keep our rules as standardized as possible. At the time, this step allowed for us to operate with no masking or partitions indoors and greatly increased our maximum capacity. Quite honestly, the new mandate will have very little effect on operations going forward.”

Next door to Terra Blues, Paul Rizzo, owner of the Bitter End, believes most of his customers are vaccinated, and is ready to card everyone starting tonight. He will refund any unvaccinated ticket holders who purchased advance tickets before the new policy was announced. All new purchases will have the vax-only policy printed on the ticket.

“Here in Greenwich Village, a bulk of the clientele is bridge and tunnel people. If they are not vaccinated, they will bridge and tunnel to the suburbs for their nights out,” he speculated.

Natasha Stolichnaya, who books the music at the Anyway Café in the East Village, told The Manhattan Beat. “Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but I truly believe and hope that the new rules are not going to affect us drastically. We might lose some, but I asked around in the East Village and most people are fully vaccinated, and so are our musicians.”

Indeed, the more difficult part of this equation may be in admitting only the resident performers with vaccinations. What happens if a resident band arrives at a venue for a gig and one member cannot produce a vaccination card? Especially after September 13, venue operators will have to be vigilant that every member of every resident band they book is vaccinated.

“Musicians are the most responsible people ever!,” Stolichnaya said of her experience so far. “From what I gathered, a lot of different folks agree that it doesn’t matter if you are a believer or not, there’s a ‘social duty.’ So, let’s get vaccinated, move on and rock and roll!”

‘We have to beat this virus, and this is a way to encourage more people to get vaccinated,” said Don Kabore, the general manager of Groove. “We all have to make sacrifices so that we can contain the spread.”