Boston Mayor Michelle Wu on Saturday discussed how the city's B Together indoor vaccine mandate will help slow the spread of COVID-19 and addressed how it's expected to impact local businesses.
The new vaccine mandate went into effect Saturday, and Wu spoke about it from the Whittier Street Health Center.
"Today's launch of our B Together policy means that we are taking important steps on the policy side to close those gaps and continue protections for our workforce and our residents," she said. "I continue to hear from our partners in health care and in our health institutions that the ongoing strain on our health care system overall is still being driven by gaps in vaccination rates."
The initiative covers indoor spaces like restaurants, gyms and indoor recreational facilities including theaters and sports venues, as well as some other businesses. Many businesses already have their own proof-of-vaccination requirements in place.
Similar indoor vaccine mandates took effect Saturday in Brookline and Salem.
Boston is also requiring vaccination of all city employees on the same timeline (Saturday for first dose and Feb. 15 for the second dose), unless granted a reasonable accommodation for medical or religious reasons. This is an update of its previous policy which allowed for an option for city workers to be regularly tested instead of being vaccinated.
The date of full compliance was moved back to Jan. 24 -- Wu said the city is working to increase compliance among those who aren't yet vaccinated -- but some city workers were organizing a march in protest for Saturday.
Addressing noncompliance among city workers, Wu said, "We really want this to be a policy that boosts vaccination rather than is punitive to our employees."
Implementation of the vaccine mandate for indoor venues began Saturday and will phase in second vaccine doses and youth vaccination requirements. Patrons and employees will be required to show proof of vaccination upon entering the premises.
The city's indoor mask mandate also remains in effect.
Individuals can demonstrate vaccination by showing their CDC vaccination card or a photo of their card, any official immunization record or digital image from a pharmacy or health care provider, or on any COVID-19 vaccine verification app.
The state recently rolled out a digital certificate people can use to show proof of vaccination, and launched a new B Together smartphone app Saturday modeled on the successful Key to NYC app that has supported the vaccine requirement effort in New York City.
Businesses are also required to post a notice at all entrances. Any found not in compliance will receive verbal and written warnings. Repeat offenders may be subject to fines, though Wu said Saturday no fines had been issued as the policy was rolled out.
Boston has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks due to the spread of the omicron variant. The city reported over 4,000 cases on Jan. 3, the highest point in the past year. Cases began steadily declining over the following week to around 1,000 on Jan. 9 before spiking back up to 2,400 on Jan. 10.
The latest COVID-19 wastewater data, however, shows that levels of COVID-19 in the Boston area appear to be dropping, a possible sign that the surge could be nearing an end.
While no one is happy that the spike in COVID-19 cases has come to this, almost everyone NBC10 Boston spoke with on Friday said they were OK with the city's new vaccine mandate.
"Would we do it on our own? Probably not. But are we going to respect it? Absolutely," said Jeremy Kean, one of four owners of Brassica in Jamaica Plain.
But Kean said he does have some concerns about making sure everyone feels welcome.
"However, we also want this to go away," he added. "We don't want it to keep spreading. We don't want it to mutate. We don't want to be part of the problem."
"We have a really high nursing, doctor, teacher population, so vaccinations are really important to us," said Jasmine Gerritsen of CrossFit in Jamaica Plain. "And so when we heard about this one, we were excited."
"I think we are all a little worried about having customers in here being affected if they don't bring their card," added Michelle Vasco at TacoMex, a restaurant in East Boston.
"I think it's a good thing that she did do this. And the reason is, it's to keep us safe," said Taya Roberts of Jamaica Plain.
Wu said Saturday that the point of the measure was to take the responsibility for requiring vaccinations away from business owners and onto the city.
"I am happy to be held accountable for that," she said. "Please, as you are out and about in our city, do not heckle our restaurant owners and small business employees. This is a policy that is meant to be a public health support for all of us."
She also noted that the city has heard feedback about the mandate making people who are vaccinated feel more comfortable going out to indoor spaces: "It is about creating a sense of revitalizing our restaurants and small businesses, making sure that people can feel comfortable going out again."