Wellness

Big Cities Drop Vaccine Requirements as COVID Cases Fall

Declining COVID-19 metrics are leading to changes in vaccine mandates. Learn which cities are lifting requirements.

Despite the changes in policy, most vaccine requirements for city workers still stand.
Sarah Tew/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

The declining number of COVID-19 cases and resulting drop in hospitalization and severe disease have prompted some major American cities to end proof-of-vaccination requirements for restaurants and other indoor public spaces. Over the past week, Boston, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Seattle and Minneapolis/St. Paul all lifted their vaccine requirements or announced imminent end dates.  

On Tuesday, Washington, DC, declared that "indoor venues will no longer be required to verify that patrons are vaccinated," effective immediately. Individual businesses can still choose to keep the mandate -- DCist lists at least 38 venues that will continue to require proof of vaccination for entry. 

On Wednesday, Philadelphia announced it was tying vaccine requirements to specific COVID-19 metrics and that vaccine proof would no longer be required for indoor dining. Seattle's King County also decided Wednesday to drop all vaccine requirements for indoor activities and large outdoor events starting March 1. Last week, Minneapolis/St. Paul also ended its proof-of-vaccination requirement for indoor venues.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced Friday that that the city's "B Together" vaccine requirement  was suspended, effective immediately. Wu cited metrics showing that Boston had reached all three thresholds for ending the requirement: less than 95% of ICU beds occupied, hospitalizations under 200 per day and a local case positivity rate under 5%.

However, as some cities lift their vaccine requirements for consumers, many city workers are still facing deadlines to get vaccinated or lose their jobs. 

On Monday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced that the city had fired 1,428 government workers for not complying with the COVID-19 vaccine requirement, per The New York Times. The group of terminated employees -- less than 1% of the city's 370,000 government workers -- included 36 police officers and 25 firefighters.

More than 923,000 people in the US have died from COVID-19, and vaccination rates have slowed despite the surge of the omicron variant. About 81% of Americans age 5 and older have had at least one dose as of Feb. 16.

Read on to learn more about who's still required to get COVID-19 vaccines and why. Also, get the latest on vaccines for kids under 5, the effectiveness of booster shots and everything we know about long COVID now.

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Which cities require vaccines for indoor dining?

New York City, Chicago, New Orleans and San Francisco all require vaccine proof for inside dining, gyms and other indoor activities. Los Angeles County also requires proof of vaccination to enter indoor bars, nightclubs, breweries and wineries, and requires people age 12 and older to be fully vaccinated before entering any public indoor spaces.

Seattle's King County also currently requires vaccination for restaurant patrons, but that rule will expire March 1.

Washington DC, Philadelphia and Minneapolis/St. Paul are cities that recently ended their vaccine requirements for indoor dining.

Which states and cities require vaccines for workers?

Although the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate for private companies was blocked by the Supreme Court, many states and cities are enforcing their own vaccine requirements. Workers who defy local vaccine mandates make up a tiny percentage of the overall public workforce.

Several states, including Washington and Massachusetts, require vaccines for health care workers, government employees or education workers. Some states like California and New Jersey mandate vaccines for all three groups.

The local governments of Tucson, Arizona, and Denver are two of many that have also instituted vaccine mandates, primarily for city workers. These mandates have resulted in job losses for a very small percentage. In Denver, 23 employees, or 0.1% of the city workforce, lost their jobs for not complying with the local vaccine mandate.

A few states and cities also allow frequent COVID-19 testing as an alternative to vaccination requirements. The National Academy for State Health Policy maintains an excellent rundown of current vaccine requirements across the US.

Several legal challenges to vaccine mandates for city and state workers have been struck down by courts. On Tuesday, according to Courthouse News Service, a California superior court dismissed a lawsuit filed by Los Angeles firefighters protesting the city's requirement for government workers.

What are the federal COVID-19 vaccine requirements?

  • The Biden administration's vaccine mandate for large private companies with more than 100 employees has been withdrawn after being blocked by the Supreme Court.
  • As of Jan. 31, the Department of Health and Human Services requires vaccinations for teachers in Head Start and schools run by the Department of Defense and the Bureau of Indian Education.
  • Workers in health care facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, including hospitals and home health agencies, are still required to be fully vaccinated. The Supreme Court decided to allow the mandate for health care workers.
  • Individuals applying to become lawful permanent US residents must be fully vaccinated, according to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services
  • The vaccine mandate for federal workers and employees of contractors that do business with the federal government has been blocked in district court, but it hasn't been withdrawn.

Which companies are requiring COVID-19 vaccines for employees? 

Companies that have implemented plans for mandatory vaccinations include airlines, cruise lines, concert halls, health care facilities and restaurants. Some of the requirements may include mask and testing guidelines, and some may only apply to employees traveling internationally, working in the office or having face-to-face interactions with customers. If any of these apply to you, check with your employer for more details. 

Here are some of the companies that have announced vaccination requirements for employees:

  • Apple
  • AT&T
  • DoorDash
  • Facebook
  • Ford
  • General Electric
  • Google
  • IBM
  • Lyft
  • McDonald's
  • Microsoft
  • NBCUniversal
  • Netflix
  • Salesforce
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Twitter
  • Tyson Foods
  • Uber
  • United Airlines
  • Walgreens
  • Walmart

What are the vaccine requirements for US military and police?

In August, the Pentagon announced (PDF) that all 1.3 million active-duty service members will need to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. The directive covers all active-duty members of the Armed Forces or in the Ready Reserve, including the National Guard. There are some exemptions, including one for religious reasons, but they aren't granted frequently

In January, the US Army announced that 96% of active Army members had been vaccinated, and that no soldiers had been "involuntarily separated" due to the vaccine mandate. It also said that "commanders have relieved a total of six regular Army leaders, including two battalion commanders, and issued 3,073 general officer written reprimands to soldiers for refusing the vaccination order."

On Feb. 2, the Army said that it would "immediately" begin discharging soldiers who refuse to be vaccinated for COVID-19, though there are no official statistics yet on how many have been affected. Before COVID-19, members of the military were already required to get at least nine other vaccines -- and possibly up to 17 in total -- depending on their deployment locations.

On Wednesday, Military.com reported that 700 service members total have been discharged from the military for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Police officers in the cities and states with mandates for government workers are required to be vaccinated, although some locales offer frequent testing as an alternative.

In response to local laws, police associations have come out openly against vaccine mandates. In Oregon, police and firefighter associations sued Gov. Kate Brown to block a state-level vaccine requirement, although that suit was later rejected by the state Supreme Court. A federal judge also dismissed a similar lawsuit to stop a vaccine mandate for police officers in Los Angeles.

Which colleges and schools have vaccine mandates?

As early as spring 2021, colleges and universities were adding vaccine requirements for students and faculty. Private universities like Rutgers were among the first to institute vaccine mandates, and both public and private schools across the country soon followed suit.

More than 900 colleges and universities are currently requiring vaccines for students who attend in-person classes -- over 300 of those schools also require boosters for all eligible students.

In October, California became the first state to mandate vaccines for students in primary public schools. All students, elementary through high school, will be required to get the shot. Nine states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have vaccination requirements for staff in K-12 schools, though only Louisiana has joined California in requiring students to be vaccinated.

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Some cities and states have their own vaccine requirements.

Natalie Weinstein/CNET

Which states have banned vaccine mandates?

At least 20 states, including Arkansas, Florida and Texas, prohibit proof-of-vaccination requirements in one form or another. The bans prohibit vaccine requirements for a wide range actions -- including accessing state services and patronizing businesses. The state prohibitions were enacted through either legislation or executive orders.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron's request to temporarily block the vaccine mandate for federal contractors was granted by a federal judge in November.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order in October banning all state entities, including private employers, from enforcing vaccine mandates.

Some states are also trying to prevent private employers from requiring vaccines, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy. On Tuesday, Idaho legislators advanced a bill that would make it a crime for businesses to require their employees be vaccinated. Some states are also trying to prevent the use of vaccine passports, which show proof that you've been vaccinated against COVID-19.

What other vaccines are mandated in the US?

A federal vaccine mandate is not new. In 1977, for example, the federal government began an initiative to vaccinate up to 90% of the nation's children against seven diseases:

  • Diphtheria
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Pertussis
  • Poliomyelitis
  • Rubella
  • Tetanus

All 50 states require specific vaccines for students, with exemptions varying from state to state. Most school requirements follow the CDC's vaccine schedule for children.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.