A Bronx resident receives a Pfizer shot, in New York, the US. Picture: REUTERS/DAVID DEE DELGADO
A Bronx resident receives a Pfizer shot, in New York, the US. Picture: REUTERS/DAVID DEE DELGADO

New York  —  New York City will become the first major US city to require proof of Covid-19 vaccination for customers and staff at restaurants, gyms and other indoor businesses as the country enters a new phase of battling the highly contagious Delta variant.

Unlike the surges in 2020 and in January, highly effective vaccines are now widely available against the virus that has killed more than 600,000 people in the US, lessening the need to close businesses and for people to stay home. 

The federal government and several states have already required public employees to get vaccinated as have some hospitals and universities. Meatpacker Tyson Foods on Tuesday became one of the largest private employers to require all workers be inoculated.

Microsoft also said on Tuesday all employees must be vaccinated against in order to enter its US offices, starting in September.

New York City's policy requires proof of at least one dose and will be enforced starting September 13. Like past policies over masks and stay-at-home orders, the plan will probably meet some resistance.

“It is time for people to see vaccination as literally necessary to living a good and full and healthy life,” De Blasio told a news conference.

About 60% of all New Yorkers have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, according to city data. But certain areas, largely poor communities and communities of colour, have lower vaccination rates.

The city’s announcement comes as cases surge nationwide with Florida and Louisiana emerging as major virus hotspots where hospitals are once again straining with the influx of Covid-19 patients. Both states have reported  record numbers of  patients needing to be admitted to hospital, as one doctor warned of the “darkest days” yet.

More than 11,300 Covid-19 patients were in hospital in Florida as of Tuesday, with patients filling 22% of the state’s hospital beds, according to data from the US department of health and human services. Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has ordered residents to wear masks again indoors.

In widely vaccinated Vermont, 0.4% of its hospital beds are occupied by coronavirus patients.

Covid-19 hospital admissions in Los Angeles county, California,  nearly quadrupled in the past four weeks to 1,096 by Monday, the department of public health said. The percentage of tests coming back positive for the virus also climbed to 6.2%, up from 1.3% a month ago, according to department data.

To fight the spread in California, political leaders in eight San Francisco Bay Area counties reinstated mandatory indoor mask orders in public places as of midnight on Tuesday morning. Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, late in July mandated all state employees to get vaccinated starting on August 2 or undergo Covid-19 testing at least once a week.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has taken the opposite stance. He issued an executive order last week barring schools from requiring face coverings, saying parents should make that decision for their children.

The state claimed another grim record with the highest number of paediatric Covid-19 hospitalisations — 138 as of Tuesday, more than those recorded in Texas despite the much larger population of the latter.

DeSantis doubled down during a press conference on Tuesday, defending the state’s approach.

“We’re not shutting down. We’re going to have schools open. We’re protecting every Floridian’s job in this state. We’re protecting people’s small businesses.”

In Arkansas, another state were hospital admissions for Covid-19 have spiked, Republican governor Asa Hutchinson said he will ask state legislators on Wednesday to provide an exception to a law that prohibits state and local government, including school boards, from mandating people to wear masks.

The private sector, including many large US companies, have also taken some steps in response to the Delta variant threat.

Detroit’s big three carmakers and the United Auto Workers (UAW) union said on Tuesday they will reinstate requirements to wear masks at all US plants, offices and warehouses beginning on Wednesday but are not requiring workers to be vaccinated.

Big Tech companies such as Alphabet’s Google and Facebook have said all US employees must get vaccinated to step into offices.

Reuters  

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