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New city medical director: private employer mandate is in place for ‘indefinite’ period

If anyone in the Nets organization — or fandom — hoped that a change in city medical directors might lead to a quick resolution of Kyrie Irving’s status, their hopes were misplaced.

Dr. Aswin Vasan, who replaced Dr. Dave Chokshi as New York City’s medical director this week, held his first briefing Friday and said the private employer mandate, which is preventing Irving from playing in the city, is an “indefinite” requirement and that the city has set no benchmarks for its removal or modification.

“I think it’s indefinite at this point,” he said. “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.

“I do want to emphasize that our mandates have been among the most important, lifesaving policies that we’ve put into place throughout this pandemic, and it’s helped us build up a wall of immunity, a bulwark against whatever this virus does to change or may throw at us in the future,” Vasan said at the briefing, held at department headquarters in Queens. “So, I would love for me to sit here and say, ‘I can give you a date or a data point when we would lift those things.’”

The mandate could also effect the Yankees and Mets who have several unvaccinated stars who would not be able to play at Yankee Stadium and CitiField when baseball season opens April 7. There had been some hope that with the change in medical directors might lead to a review of mandates. His predecessor, Dr. Dave Chokshi, had been a strong advocate of mandates.

At the same briefing, Vasan told reporters that the omicron BA.2 variant, which he said is 30 percent more transmissible than the original omicron, has taken hold in the city, with 39 percent of new COVID infections in New York and New Jersey being traced to the so-called “stealth” variant. That’s considerably more than the national average which is 25 percent. While more transmissible, the variant does not produce more severe cases of COVID and vaccines are still mostly affective against it.

The private sector mandate, instituted in December 2021 under then mayor Bill deBlasio, requires that private-sector employers with work forces larger than 100 enforce the vaccination mandate as a condition of employment. The city has its own mandate for municipal employees.

The private sector mandate is what is keeping Irving at home or in the stands now that the indoor venue mandate has been lifted. Vasan’s comments are the latest in a series of comments by city officials that dampen hopes for any quick change in the mandate and Irving’s status. Irving is only eligible for three of the Nets remaining 12 games, on March 23 vs. Memphis, March 26 vs. Miami and April 2 vs. Atlanta. The Hawks game is the only game in the last eight — when the Nets could be fighting for better post-season seeding — Irving can play.

Earlier in the week, the Nets quest to get Irving back on the court full-time suffered a number of setbacks. On Monday, the NBA fined the Nets organization $50,000 for violating New York City law and the league’s own health and safety protocols during the team’s March 13 game against the Knicks by permitting Irving to enter the Nets locker room at Barclays Center during halftime.

At roughly the same time, Kevin Durant issued a statement toning down earlier remarks criticizing Mayor Eric Adams.

“It’s ridiculous. I don’t understand it at all. I don’t get it,” Durant had said post-game Sunday. “It just feel like, at this point now, somebody’s trying to make a statement or point to flex their authority. Everybody out here is looking for attention. That’s what I feel like the mayor wants right now; some attention. He’ll figure it out soon. He better,”

Although Adams did not publicly comment on KD’s remarks, he was reportedly angered by them, particularly the suggestion that he was looking for attention, as well as Irving’s presence in the Nets locker room. Before Durant’s comments Sunday, the mayor had engaged with a heckler at an outdoor event. In response to the heckler’s call that he should let Irving play, Adams said, “Listen, you’re right. Kyrie can play tomorrow. Get vaccinated.”

Then, at a press conference Wednesday morning, the mayor said that the situation with the Nets or the city’s two baseball teams is not his top concern. He said at one point that the mandate would go away but not because of some sports schedule. Adams also seemed to take a shot at Irving and the Nets in his comments.

“We’re going to peel back like we did with the Key to NYC, like we did with children, we are continuing to do so,” the mayor added. “But I’m not going to be rushed in based on a season schedule. I am going to do this right for the people of the city, and I’m not focusing on one individual; I’m focusing on nine million people.”

The mayor has also hinted that the Yankees and Mets, playing outdoors, could be exempted from the mandate.

Meanwhile, for the first time since Opening Night back in October, anti-vaccine protestors were out in force before Friday’s game vs. the Blazers.

The protestors held signs that read “Wake Up New York” and “Brooklyn Loves Kyrie.” Others ripped up Nets tickets along with photos of Mayor Eric Adams. The protests, however, were tamer than those on the afternoon of October 29 when a couple of hundred people tried to breach the arena doors, at one point battling with arena security guards while chanting “Heil Fauci.” There were no arrests at either protest.