Mask requirements in New York’s mass transit could soon be a thing of the past, after Governor Kathy Hochul on Tuesday said she’ll be giving an update on COVID-19 rules for commuters soon.
Hochul has kept the mask mandate in public transportation for months after a federal judge struck down the rule on a national level earlier this year, but the governor said she’s been in conversation about an update of her policy as the Empire State enters what she called a “post-pandemic era.”
“With respect to masks, it’s absolutely in conversation right now and we’ll be talking about making some announcements on that very shortly,” she said in response to a question by amNewYork Metro during an unrelated press conference with MTA leaders at Penn Station on Sept. 6.
The rule requiring masking on subways, buses, commuter rails, and at indoor stations dates back the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in April 2020, when then-Governor Andrew Cuomo first implemented it via executive order, and the law has remained one of the last holdovers as city and state officials have lifted most other pandemic precautions in public settings.
Breaking the rule could mean a $50 fine, but enforcement by police — who themselves were frequently caught flouting the requirement — was lax and NYPD brass have admitted they issued “very few” tickets.
Compliance rates slipped from highs of 90% among subway riders wearing masks properly in April 2021 to just 64% a year later, when the MTA stopped collecting those stats.
MTA Chairperson and CEO Janno Lieber said at the time that mask regulations were “not a huge drama” and that “other issues” were more important to straphangers as they return to the rails and roads.
The MTA in June started taking down its once-omnipresent yellow posters that encouraged riders to wear masks, switching them out for ads and transit promotions, and pivoting the public awareness campaign entirely to its digital screens and audio announcements.
Hochul remained unsure about lifting the rule in transit, saying in June that she wanted to keep it so that people “feel safe and secure safety wise, but also health wise.”
COVID infection and hospitalization rates have declined since the latest surge in July driven by subvariants of Omicron, and the governor also last month relaxed testing and quarantining requirements in schools ahead of pupils returning to class this week.