On August 3, 2021, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the “Key to NYC” program (“Key to NYC” or the “Program”), which implemented new mandatory COVID-19 vaccination requirements for employees and patrons of certain indoor establishments in New York City. New York City officially began enforcing the Program on September 13, 2021, and the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York upheld the program’s validity by denying a motion for preliminary injunction brought by certain gym and restaurant owners on October 12, 2021. Important guidance issued by the City regarding how covered businesses can and should comply with Key to NYC is summarized below.
1. Indoor Dining Establishments: Any food establishment that is part of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s restaurant grading program that offers indoor dining or beverage service qualifies as a covered entity. Covered entities include restaurants, catering halls, event spaces, hotel banquet rooms, bars, nightclubs, cafeterias, grocery stores with indoor dining, coffee shops, fast food or quick service establishments with indoor dining, businesses that operate indoor seating at food courts (including in hotels and malls), and businesses that provide on-premises catering services. If a food establishment offers only take-out, delivery or outdoor dining, any indoor tables, chairs, or other furniture used for indoor dining must be removed or blocked off so that they are unavailable for use.
2. Indoor Fitness Establishments: Covered entities include standalone gyms and fitness centers, hotel gyms and fitness centers, gyms and fitness centers in higher education institutions, yoga, Pilates, dance and barre studios, boxing and kickboxing gyms, fitness boot camps, indoor pools, CrossFit or other plyometric boxes, and other places holding indoor group fitness classes. For purposes of the Program, a “group fitness class” is defined as two (2) or more participants led by an instructor.
3. Indoor Entertainment Establishments: Covered entities include movie theaters, music or concert venues, adult entertainment, casinos, botanical gardens, commercial event and party venues, museums and galleries, aquariums, zoos, professional sports arenas and indoor stadiums, convention centers and exhibition halls, performing arts theaters, bowling alleys, arcades, indoor play areas, pool and billiard halls, and other recreational game centers. If an indoor entertainment establishment has both indoor and outdoor portions, only the indoor portion is covered by the Program.
Indoor dining, entertainment and fitness establishments in the following settings are exempt from Key to NYC: (i) private residential buildings where the setting is only available to residents; (ii) office buildings where the setting is available only to office staff; (iii) pre-K through grade 12 schools; (iv) senior centers; (v) community centers; and (vi) child care programs.
An “indoor” space is one that has a roof or overhang and three or more walls. However, the following structures do not count as indoor spaces: (i) structures on a sidewalk or roadway that are entirely open on the side facing the sidewalk; and (ii) outdoor dining structures designed for individual parties (i.e., plastic domes) so long as the space has adequate ventilation.
Covered Entity Obligations
Covered entities must require all individuals (with certain exceptions noted below) to display proof that they have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and, for anyone appearing to be 18 years of age or older, proof of identification. Specifically, a covered entity must require proof from: (i) employees; (ii) patrons; (iii) interns; (iv) volunteers; and (v) contractors. Businesses subject to the Program may choose to keep a record of people who have previously provided proof of vaccination and identification rather than requiring proof upon each entry into the establishment. At their option, covered entities may choose to limit entry only to fully-vaccinated individuals (i.e., individuals who have received two doses of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccination series, or one dose of a one-dose vaccination) rather than simply requiring proof of a single dose.
There are certain exceptions to this mandate. Specifically, covered entities need not require proof of vaccination or identification for: (i) individuals who need to use the bathroom or a locker room to change clothes; (ii) individuals making deliveries or pickups; (iii) individuals who enter the establishment solely for the purpose of making necessary repairs; or (iv) individuals picking up items for takeout or delivery. However, all of the individuals exempted above must wear a face mask if they cannot maintain social distancing.
Individuals Who Cannot Be Vaccinated
The Program does not require covered entities to provide a reasonable accommodation to individuals who cannot be vaccinated, though they are encouraged to “consider appropriate reasonable accommodations.” The scope and nature of such accommodations are not specified in the City’s guidance.
Individuals under the age of twelve (who are not currently eligible for vaccination) may enter a covered entity, but must wear a face mask, except when eating and drinking, whenever they are unable to maintain six feet of social distance.
Acceptable Forms Of Proof Of Vaccination And Identification
The following forms of proof of vaccination are acceptable: (i) a photograph or hard copy of a CDC vaccination card or other official vaccination record; (ii) the NYC COVID Safe App; and (iii) the New York State Excelsior App. Covered entities are not required to verify that a vaccination record is real, though are encouraged to report known fake vaccination records to 311.
Acceptable proof of identification (bearing the same identifying information as the proof of vaccination) must contain either: (i) the individual’s name and photograph; or (ii) the individual’s name and date of birth.
Responding To Individuals Who Refuse To Show Proof Of Vaccination
Covered entities must refuse entry to anyone who refuses to show proof of vaccination and identification, except for “very quick and limited purposes,” such as using the bathroom, picking up food, paying a bill or changing in a locker room. Anyone entering for such quick and limited purposes must wear a mask if they are unable to maintain social distancing. The New York City Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings has posted a webinar regarding methods of conflict resolution. Covered entities with safety concerns from an uncooperative person are encouraged to call 911.
Covered employees must post a sign notifying individuals about the vaccination requirement in a location that is easily visible to patrons before they enter an indoor area. Businesses may use a poster created by the City or create their own with identical language, so long as it is at least 8.5×11 inches and in at least 14-point font.
A covered entity must maintain on site a written record describing how it will verify proof of vaccination for staff and patrons and produce it for inspection on demand. A covered entity is not required to keep records showing that it has satisfied the Program’s requirements, but it may keep a log of people who have previously provided proof of vaccination and identification for administrative convenience.
Penalties For Noncompliance
A noncompliant establishment may be fined up to $1,000. Repeat violations may result in increased fines or other enforcement action.
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