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Politics & Government

Mask Rules Still In Effect At The State Capitol, Despite CDC Guideline Changes

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Karen DeWitt
/
WXXI News

Today marks the easing of many COVID-19 restrictions in New York State, but at the State Capitol, many of those rules, including mandatory masks in some circumstances, remain in place.

On Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo said that the state would comply with new Centers for Disease Control rules that say fully vaccinated people no longer have to wear masks outdoors or indoors, or practice social distancing. Cuomo also eased many rules on gatherings indoors and outdoors and lifted capacity restrictions for restaurants, stores, gyms and offices, as long as six feet of  social distancing can be maintained. 

“We are at a point now where we are going to take major step forward in reopening,” Cuomo said on May 3rd. 

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Credit Karen DeWitt / WXXI News
Not so fast!  Five minutes later, the masks were back on.  Legislative leaders clarify masks rules remain for now for all lawmakers.

But the leaders of the state Assembly and  Senate say they are not ready to give up the masks requirement just yet.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, both Democrats,  say they are easing capacity limits in the Assembly and Senate chambers, but masks will still be required during session and in all of the legislative offices and common workspaces.

Members will still be allowed to attend session remotely, if they choose to do so.

At a news conference held by Republican lawmakers on an unrelated topic, Assemblyman Kevin Byrne, from Westchester, says as a fully vaccinated person, he plans to abide by the new CDC rules when possible and not wear a mask when it is not needed. Speaking before the new Senate and Assembly rules were announced, Byrne says he will be respectful of others and comply with whatever the rules are in the Assembly.

Right now I do my best to be spaced (from others) whenever possible, just to be considerate of everyone else,” Byrne said if the Sargent of Arms, Wayne Jackson  asks him to wear his mask in the Assembly chamber, he will gladly comply .

I respect the heck out of Wayne Jackson and I will put my mask on,” Byrne said.

Senator Phil Boyle, also a republican, from Long Island, says it’s not enough for the governor to say that New York will comply with the CDC changes. He says  restaurant  and shop owners, as well as other employers, are still confused, and need more specific guidance.

Boyle says he’s received a “barrage” of phone calls from constituents with questions about the new rules, and how to enforce them. 

He gave out many executive orders getting into the minutiae, but not this,” Boyle said. “The governor needs to issue serious, specific guidelines to tell New York business people what they need to do.”  

The governor’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.

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Credit twitter.com/@nickreisman
A chain link fence still surrounds the NY State Capitol building after concerns following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

While the lawmakers control the rules for the spaces that they occupy at the Capitol, it is the governor’s administration that has the authority to open or close the Capitol building and surrounding state buildings.

Assemblyman  Byrne says  he thinks the Capitol needs to immediately become accessible to the public.

Open up the Capitol, it’s the people’s house,” Byrne said.

In addition to the building’s closure, one of the main roads leading to the Capitol and adjacent Empire State Plaza also remains barricaded and blocked to traffic, and other entrances to the Capitol are lined with chain link fences. Those barriers were erected after the January 6th storming of the US Capitol by supporters of former President Trump. At the time, law enforcement officials feared other government buildings might be targeted.

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Credit twitter.com/@nickreisman
A street near the state capitol remains closed.

Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, from the Buffalo region, says it’s time to take down those barriers, and re open the Capitol, with safety protocols in place. 

We’re saying kids can go back to school, we’re saying people can go to sporting events, but you can’t come to your own state Capitol," Ortt said. “The optics of that to me are lazy, terrible, dangerous, pick any adjective you want. But the Capitol should be re opened.” 

A spokesman for the Office of General Services, which has the authority over the Capitol and other state buildings, says an announcement on a potential re opening is coming "very soon."