NYC mandates COVID vaccines for high school athletes and their coaches

A basketball on a gym floor.
New York City athletes and staff participating in school sports that are considered high-risk for contracting the coronavirus must be vaccinated. (John Giustina / The Image Bank / Getty Images)

High school athletes and coaches participating in sports considered “high risk” for contracting the coronavirus will be required to have at least one dose of the COVID vaccine by the first day of competitive play, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Friday. 

“We want to make sure our athletes are safe given particular the nature of these sports. And so we’re putting that mandate in place,” de Blasio said during his weekly radio appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show. 

The mandate will apply to an estimated 20,000 students who participate in the Public School Athletic League, or PSAL. It includes football, volleyball, basketball, wrestling, lacrosse, competitive cheerleading, and rugby. Vaccination will also be required for bowling, since it takes place indoors. 

The education department said the new mandate is aligned with state and federal guidance that calls for sports to be canceled in communities like New York City, where there is high transmission of the virus, unless all participants are vaccinated. Students will be eligible for medical exemptions, a spokesperson said. 

Last year, some districts that allowed sports leagues to continue competing saw an astounding number of coronavirus cases linked to athletes, such as in Memphis, where 83% of positive cases among school communities were tied to players and coaches.

In New York City, school staff who are part of PSAL are also required to be vaccinated. That goes further than the city’s requirement for teachers, who can present weekly negative COVID tests in lieu of vaccination. But de Blasio has hinted that a more strict mandate may be in store for the city’s educators. Already, cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago — the second and third largest school districts, respectively, behind New York City — have required vaccinations.

“We’re looking at additional options right now,” de Blasio said Friday. “We’re talking to the stakeholders about it. There’s a lot of energy out there for a larger mandate and that’s something we’re considering quickly.”

School districts across the country have largely declined to require students to be vaccinated to attend classes. But the tide could soon change. This week, Culver City in California announced it would require eligible students to get the shot. When it comes to student athletes, New York’s capital city of Albany will require full vaccination to play high-risk sports. The state of Hawaii also mandates full vaccination. In Aurora, Colo., unvaccinated student athletes must be tested regularly. Last week, President Joe Biden urged school districts to include COVID vaccination in sports physicals.

School sports were paused for most of the year in New York City, picking up in April and running for an extended season through the summer. Athletes were required to wear masks and undergo weekly coronavirus testing.

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