The COVID vaccine mandate for private sector employees that is preventing Brooklyn Nets star guard Kyrie Irving from playing in home games and that could impact New York Mets and Yankees players once the MLB season is underway is an “indefinite” requirement, the city’s new health department commissioner said Friday.
Dr. Ashwin Vasan, who started in his new position earlier this month, said at a Friday briefing that the city has not set any benchmarks that would lead it to reverse the mandate. Besides Irving, the mandate could impact baseball players, including Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo, when the baseball season starts next month, according to a tweet from Newsday reporter John Asbury.
Vasan’s comments appear to be at odds with those from New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who has said in recent weeks that the mandate keeping Irving out of games in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center while unvaccinated visiting players are allowed to play is “unfair.” Adams has also said he would like to change the rule but is hesitant to alter the city’s rules just for one or a handful of professional athletes.
“I think it’s indefinite at this point,” Vasan said, according to Newsday. “You know, people who have tried to predict what’s going to happen in the future for this pandemic have repeatedly found egg on their face.”
The mandate, introduced in late December under former Mayor Bill de Blasio, requiring vaccination for private sector employees who work in person with others has stopped Irving from appearing in Nets home games this season, and if what Vasan said Friday remains true, it could stop him from playing in Nets home playoff games this season.
To start the season, Nets officials said Irving would be away from the team for home and road games until he was vaccinated or New York City’s mandate changed, neither of which happened.
The Nets and much of the NBA were affected by a COVID outbreak as the Omicron variant swept through much of the country in December and January, leading to the Nets reinstating Irving for road games due to the team’s ravaged roster needing players, Sports Illustrated reported. He returned January 5 for a game against the Indiana Pacers, and has played in 19 total games since.
Earlier this month, Adams announced that most indoor mask mandates and other COVID safety measures like businesses being required to check for proof of vaccination would be lifted.
After the MLB lockout was lifted last week and the start of the baseball season began to approach, many began to question whether players who were unvaccinated last season, including Judge and others, would be subject to the same rule in New York.
Earlier this week, Adams’ office said the rule will also apply to unvaccinated Yankees and Mets players looking to participate in games in their home stadiums in the Bronx and Queens, respectively. With the season still weeks away, Adams’ office said it is possible that the requirements could change in that time, The New York Times reported.
Update 3/18/22, 2:40 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with additional information and context.