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Masks return for New Yorkers during winter surge

The state will once again require masks indoors until this time next month while Covid-19 cases spike across the state.

ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) — In an effort to slow a winter surge of Covid-19, New Yorkers will be temporarily required to wear a mask in all indoor public places, Governor Kathy Hochul announced Friday.

"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,” Hochul said in a statement.

The mandate applies to workers and customers alike, taking effect on December 13 and set to run through January 15, 2022, after which the state will reevaluate. Businesses can skip the mask if they choose to implement a vaccine requirement, which indoor restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues are already required to have.

Hochul said this decision was reached based on the state’s seven-day average and rise in hospitalizations. Since Thanksgiving, the seven-day average has increased by 43%, with 68,000 positive tests in the last week, and hospitalizations are up 23%.

Most of the rising cases are occurring in upstate New York causing some counties, such as Erie, to have already implemented a mask mandate prior to the statewide enforcement.

Something that is not rising as quickly as new cases is the percentage of New Yorkers being fully vaccinated, only going up 2% since Thanksgiving.

Though 80% of residents are fully vaccinated, Hochul said it’s not enough.

“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," said Hochul. "I want to thank the more than 80 percent 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."  

Several other states like Oregon, Illinois, Nevada and New Mexico have already implemented similar mask mandates.

New York Health Commissioner Mary Bassett says that both wearing a mask and getting vaccinated essential to stopping this surge.

“Community spread requires a community-minded solution, as the Omicron variant emerges and the overwhelmingly dominant Delta variant continues to circulate,” Bassett said in a statement. “We have the tools we need to protect against the virus — and now we must ensure we use them.”

New York has faced criticism for its strict restrictions and mandates during Covid-19, and more recently in New York City where Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that all private businesses in the city must require their employees to get vaccinated.

Lee Zeldin, a Republican congressman for New York, expressed his issues with the mandate, saying he is strongly opposed to the new measures.

“The only way to describe Governor Hochul’s approach to governing is consistently inconsistent,” Zeldin said in a statement. “Day after day, she constantly moves the goal posts for New Yorkers, who are desperate for a return to normalcy and want the government to no longer assert so much authoritarian control over their daily lives and freedoms.”

New Yorkers who violate the mandate can face a maximum fine up to $1,000. 

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