STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Edward Gomez — who has been in the restaurant business for more than 20 years and owns four eateries on Staten Island — said the new New York City vaccine mandate will force him to add a job title to his resume: police officer.
“I didn’t know I had a second job as a police officer,” said Gomez, who owns Da Noi restaurants in Grasmere and Travis and the Cargo Cafe and the Burrito Shop/Salad Junkie in St. George. ” It’s challenging enough to own a small business as is. Now, to be part of an enforcement committee at the lowest level with the least amount of pay and hardly any financial help from city or the government, makes it a daunting task.”
But that’s what he has to do soon as a new city mandate will force some business owners — including gym and restaurant operators — to check patrons’ coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine status before entering their establishment.
The new rules require vaccination for indoor public activities, including restaurants, fitness centers and live performances.
While the new vaccine mandate goes into effect Aug. 16, enforcement actions won’t take place until Sept. 13, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday.
Gym and restaurant owners said the new regulations will add to the hardships already experienced during the pandemic. Many are still struggling to rehire employees after the global shutdown last year.
“This is a no-win situation for restaurant industry,” said Ken Tirado, owner of Killmeyer’s Old Bavaria Inn in Charleston. “What’s going to happen is people are going to lash out at the staff. I already saw this last year. It’s just ridiculous, they’re going to blame people for doing their job.”
‘MANDATE IS NECESSARY’
However, de Blasio said the vaccine mandate is necessary to help end the pandemic, especially after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the delta variant is as contagious as the chicken pox. He noted that vaccines are not required for outdoor dining.
“We very purposely focused to begin on important parts of life in this city, but where people went for enjoyment that were not, you know, the most essential services, and where we think there’s a particular need because folks are in close proximity, eating, drinking, exercising, whatever it may be,” he said.
While over the weekend the city surpassed 10 million vaccine doses administered, rates have stagnated around the five boroughs. The proof of vaccination mandate is the latest effort from the city to get those numbers up.
Only 55% of eligible New Yorkers have been fully vaccinated, as of Tuesday, according to the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and 51% of eligible Staten Islanders are fully vaccinated.
SUPPORT FOR THE MANDATE
However, many Island-based restaurant owners said they understand the reasoning why the mandate has been put in place, but they still need help to survive.
“I think that it’s great that the mayor is adopting strategies and ideas from Europe to fight the current variant,” said Bobby Digi, owner of O’Henry’s Publick House in Tompkinsville.
“My hope is that he and the governor and President Biden will also adopt the successful measures and financial support that many big cities provided restaurants owners …. Very little has benefited most of us owners, yet we are front liners in the fight,” he added.
Said Gary Angiuli, co-owner of Flagship Brewery and Minthorne Street in Tompkinsville: “It’s important to Staten Island that people find a way to support our local businesses, and I have faith that everybody will find a way to do that. Staten Islanders are resourceful and generous people.”
CHILDREN UNDER 12
Details for dining out regarding children under 12, who are not yet eligible for vaccination, have not yet been worked out, said de Blasio.
However, Health Commissioner Dr. Dave A. Chokshi said at the mayor’s press conference on Tuesday that “there will be reasonable accommodations made for children.”
Gym owners, who were among the businesses shuttered the longest during the pandemic, said the new vaccination mandate will further hurt their already ailing business.
“This is just another knock to our business,” said Roseann Camarda, who owns three popular fitness studios — in Grasmere, Woodrow and Great Kills — under the Max Challenge franchise.
“We are already financially struggling from the amount of time de Blasio had fitness centers closed. This new regulation hurts us as far as staffing, which is already impossible, and now getting new members and holding our current members. I don’t feel I have the right to turn someone away for their medical decision. Gyms help people get healthy. Now, we are turning people away from a healthy lifestyle because of their medical choice,” she added.
And many other Island-based gym owners echoed Camarda’s sentiments.
“The new regulations in NYC announced today are extremely disappointing and potentially very damaging news as we recently started to see a renewed hope for our industry, ” said Chris Pacifico, owner of Crunch Fitness locations in Travis and St. George.
“Since reopening last September, we’ve gone beyond in providing our members and guests a safe, clean and encouraging environment for everyone. There’s been absolutely no recorded cases of COVID-19 exposure in any of our facilities. … We are not the vaccine police, and putting our staff in that position is irresponsible by the mayor.”
Said Larissa Schiano-Gonzalez of her business, Be Yoga & Dance in Rosebank: “My studio has been physically open for only a few months, we just started having momentum with clients returning. It’s been an incredible feeling welcoming them back. The feedback from the clients being back in studio, being together in community is helping everyone so much with the stress and anxiety that increased or developed over the pandemic.”
“To bring about new mandates, and creating more separation and effecting the revenue of small businesses is not helpful. I understand the why. … I do believe if you can get vaccinated, get vaccinated. I do not agree with the government telling individuals what they can or cannot do based on their vaccination status,” she added.
And some gym owners said they are waiting for more guidance before enacting new gym policies, or in some cases, simply will not follow the mandate.
“I have no intention of asking any of my members for proof of medical history, which includes a list of vaccinations,” said Chris Bello, owner of “Team Real USA,” a mixed martial arts studio and gym in Huguenot. “We keep a very clean gym, which is sanitized daily. It’s time to stop moving the goal posts and bring things back to normalcy.”
Said Carlo Lasorsa, owner of Intoxx Fitness, on behalf of himself and his partners, Michael Giliotti, Rosario DiBerardo and Bruce Daniele: “At this time, Intoxx Fitness prefers to wait for the full details of the new mandate. Specifically the application and enforcement, considering the legal aspects of it.”