Vax up or mask up: Hochul mandates face coverings inside unless businesses require vaccines

Shoppers wearing protective masks ride an escalator at Hudson Yards amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in the Manhattan borough of New York City
Shoppers wearing protective masks ride an escalator at Hudson Yards amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., March 6, 2021.
REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

New York state is cracking down on mask mandates as COVID-19 hospitalization cases start to rise.

In an effort to stop a winter surge of COVID-19 cases, Hochul announced that masks must be worn in all indoor public places in New York unless businesses or venues implement a vaccine requirement. This decision came as the winter surge comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise statewide to be in alignment with the CDC’s recommendations for communities with substantial and high transmission.

“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,” Governor Hochul said. “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.”   

“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,” Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said. “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.”    

The decision for the mandate came as the state’s hospitalization rates and seven-day case rates increase. Since Thanksgiving, the statewide seven-day average case rate has increased by 43% and hospitalizations have increased by 29%. According to Hochul’s office, though the rate of vaccinations is increasing, it is not rising fast enough to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The requirements, effective from Dec. 13, 2021 until Jan. 15, 2022, extend to both patrons and staff of businesses and venues and will be re-evaluated based on current conditions. Those who violate the new mandate face civil and criminal penalties, including a maximum fine of $1,000 for each violation. Local health departments are being asked to enforce these requirements.    

“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,” Governor Hochul added. 

Businesses and venues that choose to enforce a proof of vaccination requirement can accept Excelsior Pass, Excelsior Pass Plus, SMART Health Cards issued outside of New York State, or a CDC Vaccination Card. full-course vaccination is defined as 14 days past an individual’s last vaccination dose in their initial vaccine series, and 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.  Those what don’t choose to have a vaccine requirement must implement a mask requirement must ensure all patrons two years and older wear a mask at all times while indoors.   

Unvaccinated New Yorkers must continue to be responsible for wearing masks, and 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. Masks are encouraged as an extra layer of protection in public indoor settings even when not required. Children aged 2-5 who remain ineligible for vaccination must wear a proper-fitting mask.