Governor Cathy Hochhol announced Friday that masks will be required to be worn in all indoor public spaces in New York unless businesses or venues implement a vaccine requirement to enter.
The new mask and vaccine mandates come as COVID-19 cases statewide have surged more than 43% since Thanksgiving, straining the health care system amid staffing shortages, according to the governor’s office.
The requirements for the new mask extend to both beneficiaries and employees. The measure takes effect on Monday and will remain in place until January 15, after which the state will reassess it based on current conditions.
Hochhol said in a statement that the mandates are aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 during the holidays when more time is spent shopping and gathering indoors, where the virus can spread more easily.
“As governor, my two top priorities are protecting the health of New Yorkers and protecting the health of our economy,” Hochul said, adding that mask and vaccine mandates should help achieve these goals and reduce coronavirus cases.
“We shouldn’t have gotten to the point where we’re facing the winter wave, especially with the vaccine at our disposal, and I share the frustration of many New Yorkers that we’re not out of this pandemic yet,” she said.
The governor’s office noted that with cases rising, the number of hospitalizations for COVID-19 has increased by 29% statewide since Thanksgiving. Earlier this week, another executive order asked 32 New York hospitals to halt elective care due to a lack of bed capacity.
“I want to thank the more than 80 percent of New Yorkers who did the right thing for full vaccination,” Hochhol said, referring to the vaccination rate for ages 18 and older.
“If others follow suit, these actions will not be necessary,” she added.
What does the mask and vaccine say in New York?
Companies and places that apply proof of vaccination requirement can accept a variety of digital and paper documents, according to the governor’s office.
This includes the digital Excelsior Pass available on smartphones, as well as SMART Health Cards issued outside of New York, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vaccination Card.
Companies that require vaccines to enter must comply with the CDC definition of full vaccination, that is, 14 days after the last vaccination dose in the initial series of vaccinations, according to the state Department of Health’s FAQ on the matter.
In other words, complete vaccination means 14 days after the second shot of two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine; or 14 days after the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine. The country also accepts WHO approved vaccines.
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Department of Health guidelines indicated that the full vaccination requirement applies to people 12 years of age or older. Children between 5 and 11 years old must show evidence of at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine according to the rules.
Businesses and venues implementing mask requirements must ensure that all patrons ages two and older wear a mask at all times while indoors, according to the governor’s office.
Any violation of any provision of the measure is subject to all civil and criminal penalties, including a maximum fine of $1,000 per violation. Local health departments are required to implement these requirements.
New York Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett notes that a mask and vaccine are necessary, in part, because of the looming threat of the omicron variant, which early data suggests is more contagious than the delta variant driving the current increase.
“Community propagation requires a community-focused solution, where the omicron variant emerges and the largely dominant delta variant continues to be traded,” Bassett said in a statement.
“We have the tools we need to protect against the virus, and now we must make sure we use them,” she added.
New York has identified 19 omicron cases so far — including a total of four in Oneida, Broome and Westchester counties — but experts have indicated it is likely lower because it relies on selective sequencing testing based on samples collected from labs across the state.
In a select letter that effectively enforces the mask mandate, Bassett cited CDC reporting on several “real world” studies that found mask use reduced the spread of the virus, although none of the research included an omicron variant.
- Mask use during an outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, a nearby congregate environment, was associated with a 70% lower risk of infection.
- A study of 11 school districts in North Carolina with at least nine weeks of in-person learning during the fall 2020 semester reported minimal school-related transmission even when community transmission was high.
The resolution noted that the mask mandate for indoor public spaces applies to “any indoor space that is not a private residence.”
Meanwhile, New York City has been requiring people to show evidence of at least one dose of the COVID vaccine to access many indoor activities, including dining, since September, and it has the lowest infection rates in the state.
Starting Tuesday in New York City, children ages 5 to 11 will be required to have proof of vaccination for indoor activities, which means they must show they have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
From December 27, people 12 and older who participate in public indoor activities will be required to show proof that they have been fully vaccinated, which means two doses of Pfizer or Moderna or one dose of Johnson & Johnson.
What Companies and Lawmakers Say About New York State Mask
The statewide vaccine and mask authorization announcement by Hochul, a Democrat, has garnered support from some business groups and Democratic lawmakers, as well as criticism from Republican lawmakers.
In the Mohawk Valley, Madison County Board of Supervisors Chairman John Baker, a Republican, said the county will not implement the new mask mandate.
“While the county recognizes that masks can be helpful in stopping the spread of COVID-19, our data still indicates that the majority of new cases are coming from home transmission rather than from public places,” Baker said.
He described the new mandate as “another example of the separation that exists between Albany and our northern counties.”
“We will continue to recommend that residents get vaccinated and wear masks in public to help protect himself or herself from the virus, but in no way do we think it should be mandated,” Baker said. “The choice to vaccinate and protect oneself is up to the individual.”
Several other county leaders, including Rockland County Executive Ed Day, have also released statements that their counties will not enforce the mask mandate until more details are provided to local officials and businesses.
“Businesses, local leaders and other stakeholders must be empowered to make their own decisions,” said Senate Republican Leader Robert Ort, a Republican from North Tonawanda, wrote on twitterAd processing.
“Punishable mandates and fines from Albany will do more harm than good,” he added.
Heather Brixiti, President and CEO of the Business Council, noted that the group supports “necessary actions to help stop the spread of COVID”.
“We hope that people will respect the directives of the state and corporate employees by not putting them in the difficult position of having to enforce mandate through confrontation,” she said in a statement.
The comments highlighted numerous reports of previous clashes between people opposing mandates for masks and vaccines and workers who implement them in grocery stores and restaurants in New York and nationwide.
The Retail, Wholesale and Stores Union, which represents many grocery, pharmacy and retail workers, issued a statement supporting the mandates and urging employers to protect workers.
Stuart Appelbaum, president of the group, said: “We urge employers to responsibly enforce mask policies in coordination with state government authorities. And let’s be clear, it is the responsibility of employers – not their workers – to tell people who have left the store if they are not wearing masks.”
Justin Wilcox, CEO of Upstate United Business and Commerce Group, has voiced support for Hochul’s new mandates as key to curbing COVID cases, but has raised similar concerns about enforcement.
“The last thing struggling businesses need or want is another shutdown,” Wilcox said in a statement, describing a return to lockdowns imposed in 2020 as devastating to “employers, employees and the state’s recovery efforts.”
“However, given all of the other challenges employers are dealing with at the moment, we have serious concerns about the safety of the employees who will be responsible for enforcing this mask mandate,” Wilcox added.
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David Robinson is the state health care reporter for the USA TODAY Network in New York. It can be accessed email@example.com And follow him on Twitter:Tweet embed