Navigating New York City’s Covid Mandates

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A dangerous knee-jerk anti-intellectualism has taken hold of those who think of themselves as our “thinking classes,” the people George Packer, in his probing Atlantic essay on“the Four Americas”, christened “Smart America.” As another recent Atlantic essay, echoed by President Biden himself, explained, such people have grown impatient with those of us who are vaccine-hesitant. Their image of us is aptly summarized in a September 14 letter to the editor published in the Los Angeles Times entitled, “I’ve tried reasoning with very smart anti-vaxxers. It’s pointless.”

Despite possessing a good intellect, they seem to be missing an essential body of knowledge,” the writer argues. I would suggest that, in fact, the very opposite is the case: while nearly all of us at this point can easily echo the CDC’s and mainstream media’s fervently and repeatedly disseminated vaccine talking points, many of us who are vaccine-hesitant have simply gone beyond the headlines, sought out additional information and (conspiracy theorists who believe in Bill-Gates-microchip-infused vaccines aside) applied more, rather than less, critical thinking to a complex and rapidly unfolding situation.

If you do not believe me, allow me to tell you about the intellectual and financial struggle we face in complying with the newly enacted vaccine mandates taking hold of our once-free country. Then tell me if it is really “pointless” reasoning with us, if we are the ones who are “missing an essential body of knowledge,” or if, maybe, just maybe, the dehumanizing stereotype of us as wayward, ignorant, conspiracy-mongering rubes needing to be carroted-and-sticked into compliance, which the elites have conjured up, is a case of barely disguised class bias disproportionately targeting the very kinds of working-class people, immigrants, and minorities that most of those same elites routinely claim to champion.

In my capacity as an attorney and a frequent customer of a small business (which I will not identify for reasons that will become obvious) located in Brooklyn, N.Y., I have been informally advising that business on compliance with New York City’s various Covid-related guidelines, including, most recently, the city’s new vaccine mandate. The business is immigrant-run and caters almost exclusively to an immigrant clientele. On any given day, one stepping inside will see the kind of living postcard of diversity that white-shoe enterprises merely put on glossy company brochures. There are people from all over the Caribbean, from throughout the former Soviet Republics, from East and South Asia and Latin America, Hasidic Jews alongside devout Muslims and the occasional Western European or native-born American.

Like many small businesses throughout New York City, this one was hit hard by the pandemic, suffering immeasurably from many-months-long shutdowns, followed, after a brief respite, by former Governor Cuomo’s confusing and ever-shifting months of color-coded “zone” restrictions. I frequently found myself on the phone with the State’s Covid hotline to try to ascertain whether and what restrictions applied to us and was repeatedly met with representatives passing me along to others, who gave me non-answers and inconsistent guidance. Now, we are once again being hit by these vaccine mandates, enacted by a mayor who has been reluctant or unwilling to police actual skyrocketing violent crime but shows no hesitancy to erect a virtual police state that imposes unprecedented restrictions that have citizens showing “passes” for ordinary activities, such as indoor dining or attending a concert or a movie. As I will explain, compliance with Mayor De Blasio’s overbroad mandates would not only be economically devastating but is also, in the case of a business like ours, senseless from the standpoint of public health and basic science.

Here is the thing: The vast majority of our customers have already had Covid, during the first, second, or third wave. Thankfully, most of us had mild cases (my own was asymptomatic), none of our regulars died, and even those who had long-Covid-type symptoms have largely recovered. Most of us were sick around the turn of 2021, while others were sick more recently with the Delta variant. Consistent with data showing the same New York City immigrant and minority neighborhoods hit hardest by Covid to have the lowest vaccination rates, when met with the prospect of vaccination, I hear other customers express some version of the same, sensible thought: “Why would I get vaccinated against something I already had?”

Why, indeed? Why get vaccinated, when, as a recent large and widely publicized study of 32,000 people in highly vaccinated Israel reported, “the risk of developing symptomatic COVID-19 was 27 times higher among the vaccinated, and the risk of hospitalization eight times higher” than for those with natural immunity resulting from a Covid infection; this, in itself, being an instance of the common phenomenon that “[f]or many infectious diseases, naturally acquired immunity is known to be more powerful than vaccine-induced immunity and . . . often lasts a lifetime”? Even Dr. Anthony Fauci, our national gadfly on all things Covid, who is never at a loss for words (even when they conflict with his prior words on the same subject), seemed stumped when asked recently by CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta about this natural immunity research: “You know, that’s a really good point, Sanjay. I don’t have a really firm answer for you on that,” he said.

Why, given this research, moreover, get vaccinated when the risk of vaccine side effects is significantly higher in those who were previously infected? As much as our elite mandarins have been protesting (too much) that the vaccines are “safe,” even they have to admit that the risk of short-term side effects with these vaccines is higher than with other vaccines. Nearly all of us associated with this small business are personally familiar with a disturbing number of cases of serious short-term side effects, ranging from stroke-induced partial loss of vision, to cardiac issues, to tinnitus, to erectile dysfunction. Moreover, they cannot conceivably rule out the risk of long-term side effects, as I have explained elsewhere, especially when it comes to the entirely novel mRNA vaccines.

The risk of these and other complications from Covid itselfis far higher, of course, but most of those who frequent the business at issue, myself included, are not hardcore vaccine refusers. We simply do not believe that rushing to get a dose or two (or, now, three and counting) of a novel, experimental vaccine makes any sense for people in good health, with no obvious preexisting conditions, and prior documented cases of Covid to boot. Yes, having had Covid plus the vaccine offers still more immunity than only natural immunity confers, but the point here is that we already very likely have higher immunity than those protected by the vaccine alone. Why, then, is it remotely rational or appropriate to impose a vaccine mandate on us when we are safer to be around than those of you who are merely vaccinated?

A bunch of other nations agree with our reasoning, it seems: the U.K., various E.U. member states, and Israel—all places where vaccine passes and mandates have been instituted—have permitted natural immunity to serve as an exception to vaccine requirements. But, like the failures of the American states that have enacted various forms of mandates, and of our president in his recent and distinctly un-presidential “losing patience” remarks on the unvaccinated, New York City’s failure to acknowledge the glaring need for implementing a “natural immunity” exception to any mandates appears, all told, a blatant case of intemperate, authoritarian politicians ignoring and running out ahead of the science. When the fact that around half of Americans are against President Biden’s mandates is factored in, as a recent poll reported, that failure becomes still more unconscionable.

Resorting to authoritarian measures to steamroll public opinion about complex and very personal and individualized medical decisions that can have life-changing consequences for the individuals involved is just not okay. It is the kind of thing they do in China, not—or so we thought—in America. Try to persuade us, if you can (and, no, comparing the mandates involving these marginally effective experimental vaccines to the kinds of venerable and near-foolproof vaccines that have been mandated for schoolchildren for years on end won’t do it). But do not force us against our will to get the jab. That will only result in heightening political distrust and inevitably create blowback.

But here is the second part of this picture, the part that explains why turning small businesses into the vaccine police is a punitive measure certain to sow widespread resentment and defiance: as one of the owners of the business that I am advising has said,

If we were to start checking people’s vaccination status, we’d lose a good two-thirds of our customers. After everything we’ve already been through economically, we just wouldn’t survive. And we’d make a lot of people pretty angry. They’d never forgive us or come back to us, even after this is all over. Or imagine one of them had some serious side effect from a vaccine they went and got as a result of us doing this mandate thing. I’d rather risk a fine. I don’t want that on my conscience.

Neither in my capacity as an attorney, nor in my capacity as a customer, nor in my simple capacity as a human being striving to be compassionate do I have any good answer for that. We are far from alone. As a recent investigation found, 11 of 15 New York City restaurants checked by reporters were not enforcing the vaccine mandate. A lot of businesses, apparently, have reached the same conclusion as ours: enforcing the City’s mandate is not a viable or conscionable business strategy.

And so, other than posting the city’s official “mandate” flyer on our door to encourage people to get vaxxed, we have not implemented any vaccine mandate enforcement protocol. You can condemn us. You can call us deplorable. You can even call us criminal, if you want. But, the seeming elite consensus notwithstanding, there is one thing you cannot call us: irrational.

Alexander Zubatov is a practicing attorney specializing in general commercial litigation. He is also a practicing writer specializing in general non-commercial poetry, fiction, essays, and polemics that have been featured in a wide variety of publications. He lives in the belly of the beast in New York, New York. He can be found on Twitter @Zoobahtov.

For more about the “Taking the Mask Off” series, click here.

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