New York Lifts State Mask Mandate

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Gov. Kathy Hochul lifted New York State’s mask mandate on Wednesday — easing some of the state’s coronavirus precautions as cases in the city decline and New Jersey and Connecticut lighten their masking requirements.

Hochul’s decision only impacts the state mandate, which required that people entering any business wear a mask, unless there’s already a vaccination mandate for its patrons. 

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The federal requirement to wear masks on public transportation, like trains and airplanes, remains and the decision will not impact local mask requirements or the mask mandate in New York schools, set to expire Feb. 21, Hochul said. Visitors to nursing homes, correctional facilities  domestic violence centers and homeless shelters will also still be required to wear masks, she added.

“It is the right decision to lift this mandate,” Hochul said in a press conference. “Given the declining cases, given declining hospitalizations, that is why we feel comfortable to lift this, in effect, tomorrow. … I’m still going to see a lot of people wearing masks because they will feel safer. That is something that they are very, very welcome and encouraged to do, but in terms of having a requirement, it has been lifted as of tomorrow.”

New York City does not have a mask mandate — though it does require that anyone entering restaurants, entertainment venues and fitness centers to show proof that they have been vaccinated under the “Key to NYC” program started during former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration. 

About 85 percent of residents citywide have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccines, with the most vaccinated borough being Manhattan, at 94 percent, and the lowest being Brooklyn, at 77 percent. Just shy of 76 percent of city residents are fully vaccinated, meaning they have received a full vaccine schedule (consisting of one to two doses depending on the vaccine brand), but not necessarily a booster dose.

Hochul’s decision comes as a surge in coronavirus cases has subsided in New York City. Pushed on by the more contagious omicron variant, new cases spiked in the Big Apple to above 40,000 per day in early January, according to city data. As of Monday, new cases had declined to a daily average of just above 2,000

“Our numbers overall have been declining,” Hochul said. “Overall cases are down, positivity rates down, hospitalizations are down. … New Yorkers, this is what we’ve been waiting for, this tremendous progress after two long years.”

The requirement’s end comes just over a month after Hochul vowed to fight a conservative state judge’s decision to strike down the indoor mask mandate, ruling that it was enacted unconstitutionally under state law. The Long Island justice’s decision would have overturned mask mandates in schools and public spaces, but was temporarily blocked by an appeals court judge, keeping the rule in place, Commercial Observer reported. 

The mandate was unpopular in conservative areas of the state in an election year for Hochul, who is running for reelection against a dwindling set of Democratic rivals including Public Advocate Jumaame Williams and Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi from Long Island. The end to the mandate for New York and other Democratic states like California, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania was a loosely coordinated effort between governors, with New Jersey dropping its precautions first, The New York Times reported. 

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced on Monday his state would lift masking requirements for students and employees on March 7, and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamot followed that same day with a recommendation to the state’s public health and education commissioners to end his state’s mask mandate on Feb. 28.

Celia Young can be reached at cyoung@commercialobserver.com.