Hochul unsure about dropping mask mandates in transit

Passengers ride aboard the MTA’s New York City Transit subway, in New York
Passengers ride aboard the MTA’s New York City Transit subway, in New York, U.S., May 3, 2021.
REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Governor Kathy Hochul was unsure whether she wants to lift the state’s mask mandate in public transportation and inside transit stations Thursday, despite declining COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates in recent weeks.

“We’re heading to a place where we should be able to have those conversations soon, but I also want people to feel safe and secure safety wise, but also health-wise,” Hochul told reporters at a press conference at Moynihan Train Hall on June 9. “So we’re going to have the conversation soon about that.”

The governor’s administration has discussed dropping the requirement for face coverings, which are no longer mandatory on a national level or in most other public settings in the Five Boroughs, but held off when cases rose again this spring.

“We saw a trend of, right when you think you’re about to talk about lifting requirements, we had a spike about a month and a half ago,” she said. “We talk about this often, we’ll be coming to a point were it’ll not be necessary.”

Governor Kathy Hochul speaks at Moynihan Train Hall on June 9.Marc A. Hermann / MTA

Recent daily infection rates peaked on May 18 at 4,385 averaged across a week, and have since declined to 3,449 as of Monday, but the Big Apple remains in a level of high alert, according to city health data.

Mayor Eric Adams lifted the masking requirement in other public settings like restaurants and schools, and has resisted reinstating the measures amid higher transmission. The Health Department instead only recommends wearing masks at all indoor settings. 

Hizzoner on Thursday also announced the end of mask mandates for the youngest kids in childcare aged 2-4 taking effect on Monday.

Mass transit remains one of the few places where New Yorkers still have to don the face covering.

A national mask mandate for transit and air travel was struck down by a federal judge in Florida in April, but Hochul has kept it in place for the Empire State, including at New York facilities managed by the bi-state Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, such as the city’s two airports.

City commuters have started to flout the rules more often on subways and buses since the beginning of the year.

On the subway, almost a quarter (23%) of riders wore no mask at all and another 13% wore them incorrectly in the first two weeks of April, according to the latest data available from the MTA.

Bus riders did slightly better with only 16% not wearing a mask, and another 17% wearing one incorrectly.

Those rates are down from 99% people wearing masks on buses and 98% on subways one year earlier.

Weekday ridership on the subways has remained at just below 60% of pre-pandemic numbers, and at around 65% on the buses, according to MTA counts