Businesses face fines for unmasked or unvaccinated employees and patrons, beginning December 13

State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett, at podium, and Gov. Kathy Hochul, right, deliver a COVID-19 update in New York City, Thursday, December 9, 2021. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Office of the Governor.

Beginning today, masks will be required in all indoor public places unless businesses or venues implement a vaccine requirement.

Employees and customers must either be vaccinated or masked in restaurants, bars, shops and stores, performance venues and most every other type of business, or face a $1,000 fie per violation, under strict new statewide rules announced Friday.

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced this “major action” on December 10 to address the winter surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations that are rising statewide.  The governor said this new requirement is in alignment with the CDC’s recommendations for communities with substantial and high transmission. State Health Commissioner Mary Bassett issued a determination solidifying the requirement.

Since Thanksgiving, the statewide seven-day average case rate has increased by 43 percent and hospitalizations have increased by 29 percent, according to the Governor’s Office. While the percentage of New Yorkers fully vaccinated continues to increase — gaining 2 percent from Thanksgiving weekend to now — the uptick is not fast enough to completely curb the spread of the virus, particularly among communities with low vaccination rates.

“I have warned for weeks that additional steps could be necessary, and now we are at that point based upon three metrics: Increasing cases, reduced hospital capacity, and insufficient vaccination rates in certain areas,” Hochul said. “We shouldn’t have reached the point where we are confronted with a winter surge, especially with the vaccine at our disposal, and I share many New Yorkers’ frustration that we are not past this pandemic yet.”

Businesses and venues can choose to forgo a mask requirement if they want implement a proof of vaccination requirement. To prove full vaccination status of their customers, clients and patrons, a business or venue can accept Excelsior Pass, Excelsior Pass Plus, SMART Health Cards issued outside of New York state, or a CDC vaccination card.

Based on CDC guidelines, fully vaccinated is defined as 14 days past a person’s second dose in their initial vaccine series; two weeks past the second shot of the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or two weeks past the one-shot Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The state also accepts WHO-approved vaccines for these purposes.

If businesses and venues do not want to implement a vaccine requirement, and choose to require masks instead, they must ensure all patrons two years and older wear a mask at all times while indoors.

Violating any part of this measure could bring a fine of $1,000 for each violation. Local health departments are being asked to enforce these requirements.

These measures will remain in effect until January 15, 2022 unless they are extended.

New York City already requires proof of vaccination for restaurants, bars and performance venues, in addition to stricter mask requirements in other public spaces. The new statewide requirements taking effect today will be a drastic change for other parts of New York that currently do not have such strict rules.

“As governor, my two top priorities are to protect the health of New Yorkers and to protect the health of our economy. The temporary measures I am taking today will help accomplish this through the holiday season

In addition to these new requirements, unvaccinated individuals are still responsible for wearing masks, in accordance with federal CDC guidance. The state’s masking requirements continue to be in effect for pre-K to grade 12 schools, all public transit, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, nursing homes, and health care settings, per CDC guidelines.

The State Health Department still continues to urge eligible New Yorkers of all ages to get fully vaccinated and boosted as soon as possible.

“Community spread requires a community-minded solution, as the Omicron variant emerges and the overwhelmingly dominant Delta variant continues to circulate,” said Health Commissioner Bassett. “We have the tools we need to protect against the virus – and now we must ensure we use them. There are tools each individual can use, and there are actions we can take as government. Getting vaccinated protects you, and wearing a mask is how we will better protect each other. Both vaccination and mask-wearing are needed to slow this COVID-19 winter surge.”