Governor lifts “mask or vax” rule for New York businesses

Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office
New York Governor Kathy Hochul holds a COVID-19 briefing in New York City on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022.

During a press conference in New York City today, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced her administration’s plan to lift the statewide mask-or-vaccine requirement she imposed as Omicron cases were surging in December. The mandate has been in effect for two months and required businesses to ask customers for proof of full vaccination or require them to wear a mask at all times when inside.

Starting Thursday, the state will no longer enforce its mask or vax mandate, but local governments and all businesses can still choose to enforce the requirements.

According to the governor, mask or vax mandates for schools, nursing homes, health care facilities, and public transportation will remain in effect until March, when COVID data will be reassessed. If the numbers continue to decrease, the remaining mandates will be lifted.

This announcement comes as New York’s covid-19 positivity rate reached its lowest level since November 2021. According to the governor, “now that the numbers are coming down it is time to adapt.”

Hochul’s announcement comes after a marked decrease in COVID cases. After a spike in most metrics in mid-January, most numbers show a return to levels last seen in December.

Over a seven-day span, positivity rates are currently at 3 percent of the tested community with 6,041 people testing positive; the January numbers were at 23% and 90,000 respectively. There was also a 63 percent drop from Jan. 14 to Feb. 9 in hospitalizations related to COVID. As of Feb 9, there are only 32.3 cases of COVID per 100,000 residents in New York state, even lower than the 51 per 100,000 people reported on Dec. 10.

Hochul attributed this to planning that started in September of 2021. The state government ordered all health care staff to begin vaccinations on Sep 27. and paused all nonessential procedures at hospitals with less than a 10% percent bed capacity on Nov. 26.

On Dec. 1, the National Guard was called to some nursing homes to provide assistance. The temporary mask-or-vaccine protocol took effect on Dec. 10. On Dec. 31 the state government launched its Winter Surge Plan 2.0 to make boosters and vaccines even more widely available.

Hochul on Wednesday announced a new Winter Toolkit plan and its goals. Listed was a desire to protect the most vulnerable in the state like nursing home residents, increasing vaccine and booster doses, strengthening the healthcare system, empowering local leaders, and supporting New Yorkers facing long-term effects of COVID.

The National Federation of Independent Businesses issued a statement Wednesday calling Hochul’s decision “Necessary and prudent.”

“Small businesses have endured statewide shutdowns, business restrictions, and unparalleled disruptions that have wreaked havoc on our Main Streets and economy,” said the NFIB’s New York State Director Ashley Ranslow. “Today’s announcement is hopefully the end of COVID-related business restrictions and the beginning of Main Street’s economic revival and the revitalization of small businesses and local jobs.”

Hochul made it clear she would not hesitate to amend or revise policies and planning as the situation dictates.

Regardless of the official statewide policy, she told New Yorkers, “If you want to wear a mask, keep wearing a mask.”