Mayor Eric Adams plans to announce on Thursday that professional athletes and performers working in New York City will no longer be required to show proof of vaccination against Covid-19, according to a person familiar with his plans.
This means that Kyrie Irving, the Nets’ star point guard who has refused to get vaccinated, will be able to take the floor at Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the first time this season.
Adams, a Democrat who took office in January, had openly quarreled with Irving’s supporters over the city’s broad vaccine mandate for employees of private companies.
The new policy will take effect on Thursday, allowing athletes and performers who are not vaccinated to return to playing at New York City venues immediately, according to the person who was familiar with the plans but was not authorized to speak publicly. The news was first reported by Politico.
Adams will keep in place vaccine mandates for municipal workers and other employees of private companies. The vaccine mandates were implemented by his predecessor, Bill de Blasio, and were among some of the most strict local health measures in the United States.
Adams, who has been singularly focused on the city’s recovery from the pandemic, has ended other restrictions as coronavirus cases dropped over the last month. He recently ended a mask mandate for schools and a proof-of-vaccination policy for restaurants and gyms.
In recent weeks, several notable basketball figures had criticized the mandate as far as it applied to Irving.
Kevin Durant, Irving’s teammate, had suggested to reporters after a game this month that Adams was “looking for attention” by requiring athletes for local teams to be vaccinated. Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James wrote to his 50 million-plus followers on Twitter that barring Irving from playing home games “makes absolutely zero sense,” adding the hashtag #FreeKyrie.
N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver said last month in an interview with ESPN that the mandate “doesn’t quite make sense” because opposing players who are unvaccinated are allowed to play at Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden. Asked about Silver’s comments that day, Adams agreed that the rule was “unfair,” but hedged on whether there would be an exception.
As a countrywide trend toward lifting coronavirus-related restrictions gained steam, pressure on Adams mounted. When a heckler at a public event shouted at Adams about Irving, Adams suggested a simple solution: “Kyrie can play tomorrow. Get vaccinated.”
Irving is one of the best players in the N.B.A., and in his most recent game before Wednesday night’s matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies, more than a week ago, he scored a whopping 60 points. He could help the Nets win the championship in June. But Wednesday’s game was only Irving’s 20th while the Nets have played 73, and his team’s struggles in his absences have left the Nets in danger of missing the playoffs.
Irving’s situation raised concerns that the vaccine mandate would prevent unvaccinated Yankees and Mets players from participating in home games during the upcoming Major League Baseball season. Adams’s change eases those worries, but has brought about new ones.
Dr. Jay Varma, an epidemiologist and health adviser to de Blasio, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday evening that vaccines work “unless you’re rich and powerful, in which case lobbying works.”
Dr. Varma called the new policy the “Kyrie Carve Out” and said he was concerned that the legal standing of the city’s vaccine mandates could now be challenged in court as “arbitrary and capricious.”