New York City Mayor Eric Adams answers a question from a reporter in Washington, D.C., March 14, 2022. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

Newly elected Mayor Eric Adams declared a special carve-out to New York City’s employer vaccine mandate Thursday for professional athletes and performers, allowing unvaccinated athletes like Brooklyn Nets superstar Kyrie Irving back onto his home court.

Adams announced the decision at a press conference at Citi Field this morning.

“Today I signed an emergency executive order expanding the performance exemption to the private employer vaccine mandate,” he said.

The newly elected mayor said he wasn’t making the move “loosely or haphazardly, we’re making it because this city has to function.” Adams noted the declining NYC economy, marked by vacancies in offices and high unemployment, and the importance of making “tough decisions” to “move this city forward.”

To invite tourism and employees back to the city and get industries back up and running, the Adams administration is “peeling away the layers” of Covid-mitigation measures while keeping the science in mind, he said. First, the Key to NYC proof-of-vaccination pass for patronizing restaurants and other recreational venues was dropped, then the mask mandate was dropped for indoor settings and K-12 classrooms.

But the definition of healthy should not just mean “only physically healthy,” Adams said, “it’s economically healthy.”

“We need to recover our city from crime, from economic devastation, from uncertainty. This is the city I inherited and this is not the city I am going to leave,” he said.

The exemption for athletes and entertainers comes ahead of the upcoming baseball season, opening the field for unvaccinated Mets and Yankees to play home games too. Roughly two-thirds of Yankees players and at least ten Mets remain unvaccinated and will now be able to participate, Jon Heyman of the MLB Network noted.

As of Wednesday, the mayor said he would consult the city’s lawyer about whether Irving was technically breaking the law if he continued practicing in NYC, since he was technically disqualified from playing in home games.

“Well, as we stated, the name of the game is that we were not going to be heavy-handed with the private-sector mandate,” Adams said during a different press conference in Brooklyn, the New York Post reported.

“If Kyrie Irving is practicing — I’m not at the sports facility. The attorneys can tell us if he can practice or not, if it’s a violation of that or not,” he added.

The partial relaxation of the vaccine mandate will apply to locals sports facilities including the Barclays Center, where the Brooklyn Nets are based, as well as Citi Field in Queens and Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

Adams is sure to face accusations of favoritism, given his decision to accomodate Irving and the entertainment sector while requiring the city’s many other private large and small businesses to deal with cumbersome enforcement for their workforces. There’s also potentially more liability coming for the mayor’s office, as Adams may have to answer for the hundreds of NYC firefighters, nurses, and police officers who were fired for being unvaccinated over the last year, while wealthy figures like Irving receive special treatment.

Adams has gradually been upending the Covid-19 restrictions left by his predecessor, former Mayor Bill de Blasio, finally culminating in the cancellation of the mask mandate for most K-12 school children last week. He kept the mask requirement for toddlers under age five given their vaccine ineligibility, sparking backlash. This week he reversed course and will make masks optional for city daycare centers on April 4.

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