New York’s ‘mask-or-vax’ policy has been lifted for indoor public settings.
Governor Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday that the decision to end the mask mandate came after COVID-19 cases continued to decline since mid-January.
“As we begin a new phase in our response to this pandemic, my top priority is making sure we keep New York safe, open and moving forward,” Governor Hochul said. “I want to thank the health care workers, business owners and everyday New Yorkers who acted responsibly during the Omicron surge by masking up and getting vaccinated. But make no mistake: while we’re moving in the right direction, this pandemic isn’t over and our new Winter Toolkit shows us the path forward.”
However, the mandate was not uniformly enforced. In fact, it was largely not enforced at all, despite many businesses participating in the mask-or-vax policy.
The overall drop in COVID-19 cases has been 93%, according to state numbers since the Omicron surge lifted off after the holiday season.
Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay said it was ‘long past due’ to lift the mandate. “Gov. Hochul’s decision to lift the statewide indoor mask mandate is long past due and welcome news. However, dropping it some places but not others makes little sense. While other states have seen fit to lift the mask restrictions for school children, Gov. Hochul insists on keeping it in place here, even as the state Supreme Court ruled the mandate an improper overreach of her power,” he said. “As COVID-19 rates drop dramatically, and vaccine and booster rates continue to rise, it is time to end the mask mandate altogether and restore some normalcy to New York’s school children. We have not been in a state of emergency for many months, and Gov. Hochul must start acknowledging that in her actions.”
This protocol, a temporary measure implemented on December 10 as statewide cases spiked, was an effective tool to address the winter surge and the rise of the Omicron variant. With case counts plummeting and hospitalizations sharply declining, this temporary measure is no longer needed statewide. Counties, cities, and businesses will be able to opt into the mask-or-vaccine requirement if they so choose.
Masks remain a critical tool to fight the spread of COVID-19, and mask requirements will remain in place in certain high-density settings. All health care settings regulated by the Department of Health and other related state agencies will continue to require masks. Masks will also be required in nursing homes, adult care facilities, correctional facilities, detention centers, homeless shelters, and domestic violence shelters, public transit and transportation hubs, as well as trains, planes and airports in accordance with federal regulations.
Governor Hochul also announced plans to assess the mask requirement in schools in early March, to ensure students can continue learning in-person and in the classroom. The assessment will be based on public health data, including key metrics like cases per 100,000 residents, hospital admission rates, vaccination rates, global trends and pediatric hospitalizations. Plans are already underway to distribute two tests for every K-12 student ahead of midwinter break, and continue distribution the following week when students return to school. In the meantime, Governor Hochul has directed the Department of Health to work on preliminary guidance, with input from educators and parents, to keep students and teachers safe.
With a new phase of the pandemic beginning, Governor Hochul unveiled a new Winter Toolkit to help keep New Yorkers safe. The toolkit includes efforts to:
- Protect the most vulnerable
- Increase access to vaccines, boosters and testing
- Strengthen the health system
- Empower local leaders
- Support New Yorkers facing long-term COVID effects
Protecting the Most Vulnerable
New York State will continue to acquire and distribute masks and tests to New Yorkers to ensure those who need them can access them. The state’s test stockpile contains 92 million tests. Over 14.2 million tests have been distributed to schools and tests will continue to be distributed as needed. 4.2 tests have been distributed to nursing homes, 2.4 million tests to adult care/congregate facilities, and 4 million tests to counties.
1.28 million masks have been distributed to nursing homes and 5.5 million masks have been distributed to counties.
Visitation rules in nursing homes will remain in place. Visitors must show proof of a negative test within 24 hours of their visit and masks will remain required.
Tests will be made widely available for students so that K-12 student can go home for their Midwinter Break with two tests.
Increase Access to Vaccines, Boosters and Testing
- New York State’s mass vaccination and testing sites will remain open to ensure all eligible New Yorkers can access first, second, and third doses for themselves and their children.
- The State’s #VaxForKids pop-up programming continues to expand with 63 new sites established today and 193 sites established to date. This effort brings the vaccine directly to parents, guardians, and their children at local schools, community centers, and destinations like farmer’s markets to make getting vaccinated convenient and accessible for families.
- New York State is actively preparing for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to come online for children under 5 years old.
- The State’s robust education efforts to reach New Yorkers with good, science-based information about the vaccine is on-going including through traditional advertising, digital and multimedia campaigns, and direct messaging efforts through SMS text messaging, robo-calling, and Excelsior Pass push notifications.
- All 61 state-operated and state-partnered testing sites will remain open to provide New Yorkers with access to COVID-19 testing.
- Testing also remains widely available at over 1,800 sites statewide in every region of the State.
Strengthen the Healthcare System
To troubleshoot shortage issues, Executive Order 4 to increase staffing flexibility will remain in place. National Guard will continue to be trained to be able to staff in places needed as well.
As part of the Governor’s Winter Surge Plan 2.0, the State has already deployed 20-member Medical Specialty Teams from the U.S. military hospital support team to Erie County Medical Center, a 35-member team to SUNY Upstate in Syracuse, 92 new ambulance teams to different regions in the state, including 50 to NYC, and two Medical Specialty Teams (MSTs) of 20 personnel from the Department of Defense to Strong Memorial Hospital.
Governor Hochul also outlined investments to strengthen the health care system in her 2022 State of the State Address and FY 2023 Budget. $10 billion will be invested to grow the health care workforce by twenty percent in five years. $4 billion will be invested in wages and bonuses to stop the hemorrhaging of health care staff. $1.6 billion will be invested via the Capital Plan.
Empower Local Leaders
Governor Hochul’s announcement today comes after consultation with local leaders on steps the state is taking to fight COVID-19.
Support New Yorkers Facing Long-Term COVID Effects
- Last Thursday, the State’s Department of Health hosted an expert forum on Long COVID and over 2,000 individuals registered to view the panels. Panelists included specialists, clinicians, social scientists, patients and advocates who shared their experience, expertise, and insights.
- This discussion, as well as continued focus and study by the Department, will inform the State’s response which will span policy, regulatory, and program considerations to support New Yorkers suffering from long COVID as well as the healthcare providers who care for them.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said, “At every stage of the pandemic, and since Omicron emerged, the Department of Health has monitored the science to inform the State’s data-driven COVID-19 response. Today, we have reached a critical point in our fight in which the proof of vaccination or masking requirement for businesses, restaurants and other indoor public spaces will expire. As the winter surge recedes, getting vaccinated and boosted remains critical to continue the progress we’ve made, and masking remains key to keeping children in schools safely and keeping everyone safe in public transit and other crowded settings. As we continue to assess the data, the Department is also focused on ensuring the necessary support is there for those suffering from long COVID.”
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