New York Vax Mandate, US Businesses Brace for Omicron, Free Home Testing?, More

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Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced on Monday that New York City is implementing a vaccine mandate for private-sector employers after omicron cases surfaced in the city.
De Blasio said the mandate, which is scheduled to take effect on Dec. 27, is a “preemptive strike” the city is taking to stop the “further growth” of COVID-19 as the weather gets colder, people start gathering for the holidays and more information emerges regarding the new omicron variant.
“We in New York City have decided to use a preemptive strike to really do something bold to stop the further growth of COVID and the danger it’s causing to all of us,” de Blasio said during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
New York City already requires vaccines for all city employees.
De Blasio also announced that starting Dec. 14 children ages 5-11 will have to show proof of vaccination to dine indoors and enter fitness and entertainment facilities, expanding the already existing rules for those aged 12 and older.
Additionally, de Blasio on Monday announced that proof of vaccination for adults will require two shots, and not just one. That policy change will take effect on Dec. 27.
Read more here.

Businesses brace for omicron

© Associated Press / Ross D. Franklin
The omicron variant poses a new threat to businesses that were already struggling to recover from the economic damage done by previous strains of the virus.
Gyms, concert venues, restaurants, airlines and other industries that have been battered by the pandemic are bracing for another COVID-19 wave that could curb demand and prompt renewed government restrictions.
Thanks to the prevalence of vaccines, U.S. officials don’t foresee a return to the early days of the pandemic, when entire sectors of the economy were forced to shut down. But experts still worry that many businesses that barely overcame the delta variant might not survive another outbreak.
“We’re all on our toes right now, thinking, ‘Oh God, what’s going to happen next,’” said Brett Ewer, head of government affairs at CrossFit. “The uncertainty really does not help, especially when so many gym owners are almost entirely bled out.”
Fitness facilities have taken a huge hit from customers staying home and COVID-19 restrictions that limit capacity or require masks. If omicron spreads rapidly, the wave would likely run into January and February, when gyms typically get a substantial revenue bump from short-lived New Year’s resolutions.
Another COVID-19 outbreak could also spell trouble for restaurants, which lost customers in droves at the peak of the delta variant wave. Restaurant owners say that they still haven’t recovered, and their operations are continually being disrupted by the ongoing supply chain crunch, worker shortages and rising food prices.

Biden plan for free at-home tests faces hurdles

© AP-Ted S. Warren
The Biden administration is touting a key part of its plan for the winter COVID surge: have insurance companies reimburse at-home COVID tests, making them essentially free.
But the catch is that people will still have to pay the cost up front for the tests, which can be over $20 for a pack of two at the local CVS, and then submit receipts to their health insurer to get reimbursed.
That process has raised concerns among experts that the upfront cost and added hassle of reimbursement will still cause barriers to testing, a contrast to European countries where tests are free or just a couple of dollars up front.
Larry Levitt, a health policy expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said Biden’s announcement would “certainly make at-home testing more accessible,” but added that “it’s still going to be cumbersome for people.”
Advocates have been pushing for greater access to rapid at-home tests for over a year, saying that frequent and cheap rapid tests can help limit spread of the virus without resorting to business closures by giving people the ability to know when they are infectious and need to isolate, and when they are not.
Some progress has been made, as the administration says the supply of at-home tests is set to quadruple compared to late summer.
But the upfront costs are going to be a barrier.
Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said it could cause people to think twice before buying a test..


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