Starting Thursday, February 10th, New York is lifting its statewide mask mandate requirement for both businesses and other indoor spaces. That said, there will still be mask requirements in places like Kindergarten to grade 12 schools for a few more weeks.
Citing the recent decline of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Governor Kathy Hochul said she'll allow the mandate to expire as planned. It was first implemented in December and applied to all indoor spaces, aside from private places, that didn't require vaccination to enter. This new came our two days after New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said mask mandates at schools are gone starting the second week of March.
Hochul said in a briefing at her Manhattan office that:
“At this time, we say that it is the right decision to lift this mandate for indoor businesses and let counties, cities and businesses to make their own decisions on what they want to do with respect to masks or vaccination."
But with that said, the mandate will be staying place in certain areas where there are high concentrations of people. Public transit, planes, correctional facilities, child care and nursing homes to list a few.
Then there is the school mandate in New York which will stay in place until early March.
Hochul - who has expressed frustration with the slow rate of vaccinated school kids in New York - has said school districts will be responsible for distributing at-home test kits for students to use once mid-winter recess is over. That recess this year is taking place in the last full week of February.
After that has been done, the state will reevaluate whether to remove the school mandate or not.
Cases Are Dropping In New York
Again, this announcement has come as the number of cases now have been dropping now after the winter surge fueled the omicron variant.
Its peak was in early January where there was an average of 75,000 positive tests per day - over half were from New York City.
On Monday, February 7th, there have only been 4,281 new cases and the number is steadily falling. The daily average is still around the same level as April 2020 though. It's a testament to how public concern has shifted over the years.
Death and hospitalizations are still high, but the majority of New Yorkers are vaccinated now. According to the state Department of Health, about 1,600 new cases are in the city.
Those numbers were enough to convince Hochul to roll back business mandates at the very least.
But Mandates Can Still Be Kept In Place
Even with this decision being made, mandates can still be kept. Hochul's decision right now will have a modest impact on New York City. After all, vaccinations remain required for indoor activities, but doesn't apply for places of worship and other common businesses.
Former Mayor Bill de Blasio first implemented the vaccination rule in August, and is something that the current Mayor embraced as well. However, New York officials don't have mask mandates for indoor spaces at all.
You also have local governments, including the city, that can still put in place and enforce their own mask and vaccination mandates.
Even so, Hochul believes now is the right time to lift the statewide business mandate, while still waiting to see how it pans out in schools.
The requirements for schools is that students and employees wear masks while on the school grounds. And this has been a point of contention that parents, teachers, and school superintendents have been pushing Hochul on for a while now.
Hochul announced today that distributing home tests to schoolchildren starting the week before midwinter break would help. The break is taking place between the 21st and 25th of February.
These tests will also be passed out the week after the break too. Parents should be planning to test their children twice to help the state understand the case numbers amongst kids. In a statement she stressed this further:
“We want them to test the day after they come back and again three days later, and let the school know if your child tests positive, keep them home. But by that Friday, just a few days after the children come back, we'll be able to look at those numbers. We're going to look at the percent positivity. We'll also keep an eye on hospital admissions and even pediatric admissions – what's happening with them? Are they continuing to decline?”
Mandate Comes With The Winter COVID Surge
The soon-to-be-rescinded business mandate marked the first major mask requirement imposed by Hochul after taking office in August.
Hochul wasn't able to implement the requirement on her own though, unlike the former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the early days of the pandemic. At the time, the governor's emergency power had long since expired. She called upon the help of the state Department of Health and Commissioner Mary Bassett, who issued the order and putting the rule in place for the sake of public health.
The Health Department's order is currently the subject of three separate lawsuits, but it remains in effect as the state appeals an initial ruling striking it down.
That appeal will be ongoing at least until early March so the school mandate could expire before the case is decided.
During the briefing, Hochul continued to tout the declining COVID cases while also warning the pandemic isn't completely over. That is the major reason mask mandates are going to stay in schools, train stations, and other congregate places.