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New York Mayor Eric Adams will lift the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate on athletes Thursday, paving the way for Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving to play at the Barclays Center on Sunday and for unvaccinated New York Yankees and Mets players to play in their April home openers, sources familiar with the situation told ESPN on Wednesday.
The rollback of the mandate that has applied to all private businesses in the city would cover professional athletes and performers, and come on the heels of discussions that had given hope to NBA and MLB teams that the long-awaited move would come to fruition.
Adams, who was sworn in Jan. 1 and has eased the city’s COVID-19 policies since, said Tuesday: “Baseball, basketball, businesses — they have to wait until that layer [of progress] comes.”
The wait is not expected to be much longer.
The Nets, now in eighth place in the Eastern Conference and subject to the play-in tournament that starts April 12, would get back Irving, who has been kept out of their 35 home games this season. Irving turned 30 on Wednesday and is averaging 27.7 points in 19 games this season.
His absence has dominated headlines about the mandate, though the approach of Opening Day — the Yankees’ home opener is April 7 and the Mets’ April 15 — ratcheted up pressure, with multiple unvaccinated players on both teams.
Because MLB has the lowest vaccination rate of the four major men’s professional sports, baseball officials were working with the mayor’s office, according to sources, to push for updates to the mandate. Unvaccinated players on road teams have been permitted to play against the Nets and New York Knicks, and would have been eligible to participate against the Yankees and Mets as well.
Adams’ announcement Thursday will take place at 11:30 a.m. ET at Citi Field.
Unvaccinated baseball players are expected to miss their teams’ games versus the Toronto Blue Jays — and the salary and service time that come with them — after the league and union agreed that Canadian entry rules would preclude them from playing there. The Yankees play 10 games in Toronto this season.
Before the expected update to the mandate, unvaccinated Yankees and Mets were not “permitted to enter NYC Club facilities,” which include “the clubhouse, training rooms, weight rooms, hitting cages, and outdoor playing field areas,” according to a memo from the MLB Players Association earlier this week that was obtained by ESPN.
During a COVID-19 outbreak on the Nets in January, Irving stood firm in his decision not to receive the vaccine, telling reporters: “In terms of where I am with my life outside of this, I stay rooted in my decision. And that’s just what it is.”
The rollback of former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s policies by Adams has included an April 4 lifting of the mask mandate for children in daycare. While he did not commit to further changes, Adams hinted Tuesday at amendments to the policy that would soon come. “We’re going to do it in the right way,” Adams said Tuesday. “We’re going to follow the science … we’re going to make the right decision. And in New York, no matter what you do, this is 8.8 million people and 30 million opinions, so you’re never going to satisfy New Yorkers, so you must go with the logic, your heart and the science.”