State mask mandate relies on counties
NEW YORK STATE--Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday announced face coverings will be required to be worn in all indoor public places unless businesses or venues implement a vaccine requirement. This action was put in place by the state to address the winter surge as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise statewide.
This measure is effective from Monday, Dec. 13 until Saturday, Jan. 15 after which the state will re-evaluate the rules based on current conditions.
However, Gov. Hochul explained on Monday enforcement will be done by the local health departments, many of which have said they are focused on running vaccine clinics or other public health outreach efforts and do not have the staff to actually enforce the new rules.
In a notice posted Monday, Steuben County Public Health said "We have communicated to state officials that this mandate would be impossible to enforce in a meaningful way without state agencies taking the lead. We have our entire public health department, employees from other county departments, and dozens of volunteers focused upon contact tracing and vaccination. Throughout this Delta variant surge, they have been and remain overwhelmed by these tasks and cannot absorb additional duties of mask enforcement. As such, any complaint received by Steuben County will be forwarded to the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH)."
At press time, at least five counties had expressed similar opinions.
The state set the maximum civil penalty at a $1,000 fine for non-compliance with the mask order.
"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," Hochul said.
Since Thanksgiving, the statewide seven-day average case rate has increased by 43 percent and hospitalizations have increased by 29 percent. While the percentage of New Yorkers fully vaccinated continues to increase--gaining 2 percent from Thanksgiving weekend to now--the uptick is not fast enough to completely curb the spread of the virus, particularly among communities with low vaccination coverage.
Any indoor public location requires masks worn at all times or vaccine status checked. The state defines this as "any indoor space that is not a private residence. This means businesses and venues New Yorkers typically frequent that are either publicly owned or owned by private business entities. This includes indoor entertainment venues, concert halls, indoor sports stadiums, recreational spaces, restaurants, office buildings, shopping centers, grocery stores, pharmacies, houses of worship and common areas in residential buildings."
At eating or drinking establishments the rules say, "If a business or venue does not require proof of full vaccination, all employees and patrons must have their mask on at all times regardless of vaccination status, except when necessary to eat or drink."
There is an entire webpage devoted to questions and answers about the mandate available at https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/node/13521.
Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said, "Taking this action now is critical to slowing the COVID-19 winter surge during the holidays. Each of you can contribute: get vaccinated, get boosted if you are already vaccinated and wear a mask. We urge the public to support these new requirements in indoor public places by cooperating with the venues. We need everyone to do their part to get through this together."