New York City mayor says Nets, Knicks, Yankees, Mets will have to wait for loosened COVID-19 vaccination restrictions

NEW YORK -- New York Mayor Eric Adams reiterated that while he remains optimistic about the COVID 19-related numbers he's seeing, the city's professional sports teams are going to have to wait their turn as far as potential vaccination-mandate rollbacks are concerned.

"Right now, we're going to take some complaints," Adams said during a Tuesday morning news conference announcing that masks will be optional for day care students between the ages of 2 and 4 starting on April 4 if the COVID numbers hold. "But when this is all said and done, people are going to realize this is a thoughtful administration and we got it right. So baseball, basketball, businesses, all of those things, they have to wait until that layer comes."

The layer that teams like the Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, New York Yankees and New York Mets are all waiting on is a rollback of the private employer mandate, which does not allow employees to work in the office -- or in this case players to play for their teams -- if they are not vaccinated against COVID. Nets star guard Kyrie Irving, who is not vaccinated and has made it clear he won't get the vaccine, has not been able to play in any games in New York City this season because of the mandate.

"We're going to do it in the right way," Adams said. "We're going to follow the science ... we're going to make the right decision. And in New York, no matter what you do, this is 8.8 million people and 30 million opinions, so you're never going to satisfy New Yorkers, so you must go with the logic, your heart and the science."

For Adams, that means he will continue to listen to his medical team and doesn't sound likely to be swayed by any of the professional teams that might be impacted. The Yankees' home opener is April 7, the NBA play-in tournament starts April 12 and the Mets' home opener is April 15.

When asked if he has felt heat from local sports teams to pull back the mandate, Adams said he doesn't "feel any pressure doing this job at all, because I'm going to do what's right." He said one of the main reasons he doesn't feel pressed is because of his experience as a New York City transit cop in the 1980s.

"We're going to slowly peel back, as I stated over and over again, we're going to do it layer by layer and each layer we peel back we're going to do an analysis: 'Are we OK?'" Adams said. "And if we have to pivot and shift and come back here in a week and say we're going to do something different, we're going to do that. I'm not going to hesitate to say this is where the numbers are taking us, this is where the science is and this is what we're going to do. Because I'm not going to only view this from where we are in the crisis, I see myself out of crisis.

"And people are going to look back later like they did with the schools -- remember what they did to us when we were talking about keeping the schools open -- I said, 'Don't worry about the noise, team, we're going to do the right thing for our children' and people are going to look back later and say, 'You know what? We don't want to admit it, but this administration got it right, and they're going to do that again.'"

Adams said the feedback he's gotten from local businesses is that they appreciate the mandate remaining in place.

"Believe it or not, a lot of our businesses, they love the mandates," Adams said. "When I speak to a lot of my businesses, getting people back in the office, that mandate is allowing them to feel safe in the office for those who feel that they would rather the vaccine mandate to be in place. But again, we're going to do it in layers, and when we feel it's the right time to look at that, if we do so at all, because the work environment is an important environment, we're going to make that determination. We're not there yet."

New York City's infection rate has been climbing again lately, rising 50% over the past week. The city is averaging a little more than 950 new cases per day, comparable to the daily average in early November before the start of the omicron wave.

City health commissioner Ashwin Vasan said cases have increased slightly in recent days and officials will continue to watch the trends over the next two weeks before deciding whether to lift the rule.

Vasan said officials are closely monitoring the spread of a strain of the more transmissible omicron subvariant known as BA.2 and expect to see rising cases to some degree.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.