The following FYI is a reprint of the announcements made Friday regarding New York state's new mask mandate:
Seeks to prevent business disruption as COVID-19 cases & hospitalizations rise statewide
√ Businesses and venues must implement a mask requirement or require proof of fully vaccinated status – Hochul gives options to businesses with mask or vaccine requirement
√ State to reassess measure on Jan. 15, 2022
Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday announced masks will be required to be worn in all indoor public places unless businesses or venues implement a vaccine requirement.
Her team said, “This major action to address the winter surge comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise statewide” and is “in alignment with the CDC's recommendations for communities with substantial and high transmission.”
The state health commissioner issued a determination solidifying the requirement.
A press release noted, “This determination is based on the state's weekly seven-day case rate as well as increasing hospitalizations. The new business and venue requirements extend to both patrons and staff. This measure is effective Dec. 13, 2021, until Jan. 15, 2022, after which the state will reevaluate based on current conditions. The new measure brings added layers of mitigation during the holidays when more time is spent indoors shopping, gathering, and visiting holiday-themed destinations.”
Hochul said, "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. 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.
“I want to thank the more than 80% of New Yorkers who have done the right thing to get fully vaccinated. If others will follow suit, these measures will no longer be necessary."
She added, "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.”
Since Thanksgiving, the statewide seven-day average case rate has increased by 43% and hospitalizations have increased by 29%. While the percentage of New Yorkers fully vaccinated continues to increase – gaining 2% from Thanksgiving weekend to now – Hochul’s team said, “The uptick is not fast enough to completely curb the spread of the virus, particularly among communities with low vaccination coverage.”
It added, “The State Department of Health has produced nation-leading studies, published in the CDC's MMWR and the New England Journal of Medicine, which demonstrate the COVID-19 vaccines' effectiveness – particularly in preventing severe disease. The department continues to urge eligible New Yorkers of all ages to get fully vaccinated and boosted as soon as possible.
Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said, "Community spread requires a community-minded solution, as the omicron variant emerges and the overwhelmingly dominant delta variant continues to circulate. 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."
A violation of any provision of this measure is subject to all civil and criminal penalties, including a maximum fine of $1,000 for each violation. Local health departments are being asked to enforce these requirements.
Business/Venue Proof of Full-Course Vaccination Requirement
Masks will be required for all indoor public spaces, unless the business or venue has a vaccine requirement for entry – meaning only people who have been full vaccinated against the coronavirus can enter.
Businesses and venues that implement a proof of vaccination requirement can accept Excelsior Pass, Excelsior Pass Plus, SMART Health Cards issued outside of New York, or a CDC vaccination card.
In accordance with CDC's definition of fully vaccinated, full-course vaccination is defined as 14 days past an individual's last vaccination dose in their initial vaccine series (14 days past the second shot of a two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine; 14 days past the one-shot Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine). The state also accepts WHO-approved vaccines for these purposes. Parents and guardians can retrieve and store an Excelsior Pass and/or Excelsior Pass Plus for children or minors under legal guardianship.
Business/Venue Mask-Wearing Requirement
Businesses and venues that implement a mask requirement must ensure all patrons 2 years and older wear a mask at all times while indoors.
Continued Masking Requirements
Unvaccinated individuals continue to be responsible for wearing masks, in accordance with federal CDC guidance. Further, the state's masking requirements continue to be in effect for pre-K to grade 12 schools, public transit, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, nursing homes, and health care settings per CDC guidelines.
New York and the state's Department of Health continue to strongly recommend mask-wearing in all public indoor settings as an added layer of protection, even when not required. Children ages 2-5 who remain ineligible for vaccination must wear a proper-fitting mask.
COVID-19 vaccines and booster doses are free and available statewide. New Yorkers can visit vaccines.gov, text their ZIP code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233 to find nearby locations. To schedule an appointment at a state-run mass-vaccination site, New Yorkers can visit the “Am-I-Eligible” site. New Yorkers can also contact their health care provider, county health departments, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), rural health centers, or pharmacies.
Niagara County Legislature Chairwoman Becky Wydysh said, “Niagara County has said right along that we believe it is advisable for people to wear masks indoors, especially when social distancing is not possible, as part of a multilayered COVID-19 mitigation strategy, but that a mandate was not the best approach nor the enforcement of such a mandate the best use of our resources.
“Today, Gov. Hochul has instituted a statewide indoor mask mandate through Jan. 15, but how the state intends to enforce this mandate is not clear. To the extent that we are asked to take part in any sort of enforcement of Gov. Hochul’s mask mandate, we will be taking an educate to cooperate approach.
“In Niagara County, we will continue to focus our county resources on vaccinations, contact tracing, testing and working to keep kids in school. As a matter of fact, we held five vaccination clinics this week. We continue to seek more testing resources from the state, including reopening the free testing site at NCCC, because we believe identifying and isolating those who test positive is the greatest need right now to reduce the spread.”
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said, "With new COVID-19 cases rapidly increasing across New York state, I commend Gov. Hochul for following Erie County's lead and implementing a statewide mask requirement for all indoor public locations, or, alternatively, permitting the business to choose to implement a vaccine mandate for all persons entering the premises. The COVID-19 virus does not respect county or other municipal boundaries. In order to respond to the growing regional and statewide threat, unified action is needed. I thank the governor for taking that action by implementing an indoor mask requirement because, the facts are clear, wearing a mask can help stop the transmission and further spread of COVID-19."