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New York Imposes Indoor Mask Mandate

Governor Kathy Hochul
Don Pollard
/

New York Governor Kathy Hochul, responding to spiking COVID-19 rates in some parts of the state, is enacting a statewide indoor mask mandate in public places effective on Monday. She calls it a “pre-emptive” strike to avoid an economic shutdown.

Hochul says stores, restaurants, theaters and other businesses and venues can avoid requiring masks if they check all patrons for proof that they are fully vaccinated.

People are not considered fully vaccinated until two weeks after they have received their first dose of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine and two weeks after the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna shots.

“We’re entering a time of uncertainty, and we could either plateau here or our cases could escalate beyond control,” Hochul said. “We are heading upward in a direction that I find is no longer sustainable.”

Hochul had previously resisted statewide mandates, saying that it is up to local governments to decide whether residents should have to wear masks or show proof of vaccination.

But she says with the prevalence of the delta variant of the coronavirus and evidence that there is community spread of the newer omicron variant – both happening during the holiday season - it’s a “perfect storm” for infections to spike even higher.

The state health department reports that the infection rate is around 10% in the Buffalo and the Finger Lakes regions, and higher than 8% in the North Country, and Mohawk Valley.

32 hospitals across the state have more than 90% of their beds occupied, and the governor has already ordered them to suspend elective surgeries.

Hochul made her remarks in New York City, which for months has required both masks and proof of vaccination for all indoor settings. New York City’s rate of infection has been far below other parts of the state and is now at around 2.5%.

New York City also has higher vaccination rates than many other parts of the state. Hochul says the latest surge of the virus is being fueled by those who have so far resisted vaccination. The vast majority of those hospitalized and seriously ill with COVID-19 are the unvaccinated. Hochul says those who have not yet received their shots are contributing to continued spread and breakthrough infections experienced by the fully vaccinated.

“This is a crisis of the unvaccinated,” Hochul said. “This was completely avoidable.”

Business groups reacted positively, as did the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union which represents many front-facing workers, saying it could help avoid another economic shutdown and save lives. The state’s Business Council issued a plea to patrons to not get into confrontations with business owners who require the masks or proof of vacation.

But- Republicans in the Legislature criticized the new restrictions.

Assembly GOP Minority Leader Will Barclay, in a statement, says with 80% of adults in New York now fully vaccinated, people should not be “force-fed” another statewide mandate with very little notice.

Hochul’s political opponents also critiqued the plan. Democratic Congressman Tom Suozzi, who is running against Hochul in the primary for governor, says she lacks a comprehensive plan for dealing with the virus and that “New Yorkers deserve better than a piecemeal press approach.”.

Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin, a Republican candidate for governor, says Hochul’s policies toward COVID are inconsistent, and has “moved the goal posts” for New Yorkers who are desperate to return to normalcy.

Hochul says she is leaving enforcement of the new mandates up to local governments for now. But she says there will be stiff penalties for noncompliance.

“There is a $1000 fine for those that don’t comply,” the governor said.

The new rules will be reevaluated on January 15th, after the holidays are over.

REACTION FROM ONONDAGA COUNTY EXECUTIVE RYAN MCMAHON

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon is on board with the governor’s decision to implement the mask mandate. He says that regional enforcement is not always as effective, and cites Erie County as an example, a county that has had a mask mandate in place for weeks but has seen increasing cases.

“If you can’t do things regionally, statewide is the only way to do it if people think it’s necessary. At least everyone’s on the same playing field.”

McMahon says that they will be speaking with independent businesses in the coming weeks about requiring proof of vaccination. He echoed the governor’s message that vaccinations are the best way to curb the virus.