Brooklyn, NY

All five NYC counties have COVID-19 levels meriting mask mandates, per CDC

Betsy Ladyzhets

While parts of the country with lower vaccination rates are making headlines, New York City’s case counts have quietly—yet steadily—ticked up in recent weeks.

In fact, all five boroughs are seeing high enough transmission to merit mask requirements, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Mayor Bill de Blasio announces that NYC has reached 10 million vaccine doses administered at an August 2 press briefing.NYC Mayor's Office

After recommending in May that fully vaccinated Americans could go without masks in public spaces, the CDC said last week that some vaccinated people should go back to masking. This revised guidance applies to people living in areas of “substantial or high transmission,” indicated by high case numbers and test positivity rates.

As of August 2, all the city boroughs fit that category. Staten Island, Manhattan, and Brooklyn all have high transmission, with over 100 total new cases for every 100,000 residents in the past week. Queens and the Bronx, meanwhile, have substantial transmission—but their case numbers are climbing.

Over the past week (July 26 to August 1), the boroughs have averaged:

  • Staten Island (Richmond County): 22 daily new cases for every 100,000 people, up 44% from the previous week
  • Manhattan (New York County): 17 daily new cases per 100k, up 71%
  • Brooklyn (Kings County): 16 daily new cases per 100k, up 44%
  • Queens (Queens County): 13 daily new cases per 100k, up 61%
  • The Bronx (Bronx County): 13 daily new cases per 100k, up 50%
All five NYC counties are colored in red (high transmission) or orange (substantial transmission) on the CDC's county-level COVID-19 map.CDC COVID Data Tracker

This surge is driven by the Delta variant, which now causes at least 72% of cases in the city. While vaccination is the best protection against this variant, vaccinated people are still capable of spreading the virus from person to person—leading the CDC to recommend masks as an additional precaution in areas currently seeing outbreaks.

NYC has yet to reinstate a mask mandate, however. In a press conference on August 2, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that his administration is “strongly recommending” masks in indoor settings, including for fully vaccinated New Yorkers. Masks also continue to be required on public transit and in healthcare settings. But de Blasio stopped short of requiring this crucial public health measure throughout the city, drawing criticism on social media.

Meanwhile, mask mandates are back in San Francisco and six other Bay Area counties, health officials announced. In the San Francisco metro area, 66% of residents are fully vaccinated, compared to 56% in greater NYC.

Mayor de Blasio’s main strategy for beating COVID-19 in the city is vaccination. “Our entire strategy is focused on vaccination,” he said. “The way forward is vaccination.”

To that end, the mayor has instituted a vaccine mandate for all new city employees; employees will need to provide proof of vaccination before starting work. At the state level, Governor Andrew Cuomo is requiring vaccination or weekly testing for all MTA and Port Authority employees.

Both the mayor and governor are also encouraging New York businesses, like bars and entertainment venues, to require vaccination for entry.

“If you're not vaccinated, there's going to be more and more things you can't do,” de Blasio said. “I say that to say, go get vaccinated. So, you can fully participate in the life, the city, because that's where things are going.”

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Betsy Ladyzhets is a science, health, and data journalist currently focused on tracking the COVID-19 pandemic. Her work has appeared in Science News, MIT Technology Review, the COVID Tracking Project, Slate, and other publications. At NewsBreak, she covers science, health, and environmental issues in New York City. She also runs an independent publication on COVID-19 data:

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