Under pressure from Mayor Bill de Blasio and other city leaders, the United States Tennis Association reversed its lax coronavirus protocols for the upcoming U.S. Open tournament, which opens to thousands of fans on Monday.
Originally, the tournament did not require any proof of vaccination or a recent negative coronavirus test for fans to enter, and there were no mask mandates, either. But the mayor’s office stepped in over the past two days and demanded stricter protocols.
On Friday evening, the tournament announced on its Twitter account that proof of at least one vaccine shot would now be required for entrance to the grounds for all fans age 12 and older. No masks are required.
The mayor’s office was adamant that fans entering Arthur Ashe Stadium, the largest venue on the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, be vaccinated. But the U.S.T.A. took it a step further and made it a requirement for all fans entering the grounds of the tournament.
“Today, the U.S.T.A. was informed that the New York City mayor’s office will be mandating proof of Covid-19 vaccination for entrance to Arthur Ashe Stadium,” the statement said. “Given the continuing evolution of the Delta variant and in keeping with our intention to put the health and safety of our fans first, the U.S.T.A. will extend the mayor’s requirement to all U.S. Open ticket holders 12 years old and older.”
De Blasio was not the only city official concerned about the potential for a large coronavirus outbreak. After the tournament announced on Wednesday that no vaccines or masks would be required, Mark Levine, a City Council member from Manhattan, said he was “alarmed” that the U.S. Open could become a super spreader event, especially with so many visitors from around the world and the country visiting the tournament in Queens, and also going into Manhattan during their visits.
Reached after the tournament reversed course on Friday, Levine was pleased by the reversal.
“I feel enormous relief,” he said, “and it’s just in the nick of time with crowds due to arrive on Monday.”
Levine pointed out that because ticket holders were only required to get one shot, they had time before the tournament started, if they were motivated to get it.
“No fan is excluded unless they want to be,” he said. “This is not a draconian measure.”
Tournament organizers said they would add “extra measures” to expedite the process of checking vaccination records at entry points to the grounds.
The U.S.T.A. said it had developed its original protocols for fans within guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the city’s Department of Health and the mayor’s office. But since then, it said, the mayor has introduced the Key to NYC Pass, requiring patrons and employees of indoor dining, entertainment and recreation to prove that they have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
The mayor was particularly concerned about fans filling up Arthur Ashe Stadium with the roof closed. The U.S.T.A. claims that the ventilation inside the stadium is sufficient for it to be considered an outdoor venue — like one of New York’s two baseball stadiums — even when the roof is closed.
The mayor insisted that the U.S.T.A either mandate proof of one dose of a Covid vaccine, or keep the roof open at all times, which could have caused scheduling headaches in the event of rain.
Players are not required to be vaccinated, but they are tested upon arrival at the tournament and every four days after that. If they test positive, they must withdraw from the tournament.
Ticket holders who do not wish to provide proof of vaccination may seek a refund.
“I feel like that should be always a personal decision, whether you want to get vaccinated or not,” said Novak Djokovic, who enters the tournament looking to become the first player, man or woman, to win a Grand Slam since Steffi Graf in 1988. “So, I’m supportive of that. Whether someone wants to get a vaccine or not, that’s completely up to them. I hope that it stays that way.”