New York’s statewide mask mandate will come to an end Thursday, marking a new step in the ongoing pandemic recovery.
Governor Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday that businesses will no longer have to require patrons to wear masks inside or show proof of vaccination, but masking and vaccination requirements will remain optional for businesses, local governments and counties. New York City does not have its own mask mandate for businesses, but it does require proof of vaccination for a number of indoor activities.
However, the change in rules does not apply to the state’s schools, which have a separate mask mandate that remains in place. Hochul did not signal whether she would let that mandate lapse, saying instead requirements would be reevaluated in early March, after mid-winter break, based on public health data.
That data would include metrics like cases per 100,000 residents, hospital admission rates, vaccination rates, global trends and pediatric hospitalizations. She added that plans were underway to distribute two tests for every K-12 student ahead of midwinter break.
Despite the lifting of the mandate for businesses, masks will continue to be required in hospitals, nursing homes, shelters, and public transit and transportation hubs, as well as trains, planes and airports in accordance with federal regulations.
"As we begin a new phase in our response to this pandemic, my top priority is making sure we keep New York safe, open and moving forward," Hochul said.
"I want to thank the health care workers, business owners and everyday New Yorkers who acted responsibly during the Omicron surge by masking up and getting vaccinated. But make no mistake: while we're moving in the right direction, this pandemic isn't over and our new Winter Toolkit shows us the path forward."
The statewide mandate was first introduced in December as a temporary measure to address a statewide spike in COVID-19 cases, caused largely by the Omicron variant.
She said that with case counts plummeting and hospitalizations sharply declining, the mandate was no longer needed statewide, adding that counties, cities and businesses could “opt into the mask-or-vaccine requirement if they so choose.”
The current seven day average for COVID-19 cases across the state is 4.11%. In Brooklyn, the positivity rate on Tuesday was 2.44%.
Hochul said while the numbers were trending in the right direction, "we need to remain vigilant and continue using the tools at our disposal to protect ourselves and our loved ones. That means getting vaccinated, getting the booster, getting tested, and staying home, if you're not feeling well."