On Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York announced that the state would drop face mask requirements in most public places for those who are vaccinated. “New Yorkers have made great progress. All the arrows are now pointed in the right direction. So let’s get back to life,” said Governor Cuomo in a press conference. This comes after the CDC’s guidance that vaccinated persons do not need to wear masks indoors. On Saturday, the CDC said that students will still have to wear masks in school for the remainder of the school year, as many are not yet vaccinated. The lifting of the mandate is a big milestone for the state, as New York was one of the first states to issue a mask mandate back in April 2020.
The lifting of these restrictions does not take into account the millions of children under the age of 12 who cannot get any vaccine at the moment. Still under 50% of Americans have received at least one shot of a COVID vaccine, so the relaxation of these rules may cause unvaccinated people to contract COVID. 61.8% of adults in New York State have received at least one dose of a vaccine, and 52% are fully vaccinated.
Masks will remain required in schools, on public transportation, in nursing homes, homeless shelters, jails, schools, healthcare facilities, and in some other communal settings such as at large events. Cuomo also stated, “Unvaccinated people should continue to wear a mask.” However, many are worried unvaccinated people will not wear a mask, as private businesses are not legally allowed to ask those not wearing a mask about why they may be exempt from doing so. Thus, it remains unknown whether unvaccinated people will conform with the guidance that they should continue to wear a mask. Private businesses, however, are still allowed to require masks if they please.
According to Axios, “New York is seeing the lowest number of hospitalizations and lowest number of patients in the intensive care unit since November.” The lifting of the mandate may also be supported by the fact that on Monday, the state reported its lowest number of single-day deaths since October 11. Additionally, the rate of positivity among New Yorkers tested for the virus is currently hovering around 1%, which is a good sign. On the other hand, New York has experienced the second-highest number of COVID deaths after California, with 53,000.
According to Democrat and Chronicle, “The state’s rules cut across all sectors, including retail, food services, offices, gyms and fitness centers, amusement and family entertainment, hair salons, barber shops and other personal care services.” The New York State Department of Health said on Monday it still recommends mask-wearing during indoor events where the vaccination status of individuals is unknown.
Also relaxed are the restrictions on capacity in businesses, which had been based on a percentage of maximum occupancy. Businesses will now only be limited by their ability to keep patrons at a distance of six feet. However, businesses can eliminate the social distancing requirement if proof of vaccination is shown.
Unvaccinated persons must be spaced six feet apart in assigned sections when attending large-scale events. Masks will be required except when sitting and eating or drinking. Fully vaccinated people can be spaced directly next to each other in 100% occupancy, and masks are optional. Children who have not been allowed to get the vaccine due to their age can still be seated with a fully vaccinated adult in a vaccinated section at the event. Unvaccinated attendees of large-scale events will have to provide proof of a negative COVID test in indoor settings, but not outdoor ones. Large-scale outdoor event venues, such as sporting events, can increase occupancy to 33% of full capacity as well.
Several indoor dining restrictions have been relaxed as well, although some measures remain in place, such as curfews for things such as drinking. Offices, hair salons, barber shops, and other personal care services have expanded to 75% occupancy recently. Quarantine for domestic and international travel is no longer required. Gyms have reopened at 50% capacity, and beaches and pools will be allowed to reopen this summer with six-foot social distancing, which allows for 100% capacity. Casinos have been able to recently open up with 50% occupancy, and curfews for casinos, pool halls, movie theaters, and bowling alleys were recently lifted. These facilities, however, must keep up their sanitizing protocols.
Some experts remain adamant that the mandate should continue, citing confusion about who is vaccinated. According to epidemiologist Ali Mokdad, “It’s very simple. How can I tell who is vaccinated and who is not? When I’m at an outdoor restaurant, how can I tell if — what is a crowded place? Is a farmer’s market in summer crowded? How do I define crowded as a single person? Also, how could CDC release something that is one size fits all?”
Mokdad also stated that further confusion could emerge regarding the new guidance, and he believes it was poorly communicated by the CDC. “As you can see, it’s not clear. There’s so much gray area in there and people are going to do whatever they feel works for them in different settings. And that’s my biggest concern. It’s not clear, it’s not specific. And it’s going to leave room for interpretation by different people differently. And that will lead to a lot of problems.”
Finally, Mokdad cites the fact that the U.S.’s vaccination numbers are good, but the country has not yet achieved herd immunity, which would mean that approximately 70% of the country is fully vaccinated. “We have to address it, but we cannot tell people before we get herd immunity you can ditch your mask. We have to do our job. We’re avoiding doing our job by giving in, saying don’t wear your mask if you get vaccinated.”