ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — New York’s mandate to wear masks indoors except for where vaccination proof is required continues this week. It is set to expire Thursday, but Governor Kathy Hochul said she plans to make an announcement Wednesday regarding the fate of the “mask or vax” rule.
“We put some protections in place to help our workplaces, and help employees and customers,” Hochul said in a Monday press conference regarding the early December mandate that followed concerns over the highly contagious Omicron variant.
Recently, in Albany County, the number of people hospitalized with the virus, and reported daily infections have been on a decline.
“We had quite a significant spike from Omicron, and we hoped that it would trend down the way that it’s doing right now,” explained Albany County Health Commissioner Dr. Elizabeth Whalen. “Right now, I’m cautiously optimistic, but it’s important for people to know that we’re still in a situation of very much widespread transmission of the virus throughout the community.”
Dr. Whalen said the county’s infection rate is at 9 percent, which she considers on the high end.
“That’s the metric that we’re really following to try to determine where our comfort level really lies in terms of mask mandates, and I think the governor is looking at that as well,” she said.
However, the statewide 7-day average is lower, at 4.5 percent. But mask mandates have gone into effect and have been lifted at a range of positivity rates.
When former Governor Cuomo instated the first statewide executive order for masks, New York was experiencing a 7-day rolling average positivity rate of 39.2 percent. That was April 15, 2020.
Over a year later, in May 2021, the state adopted CDC guidance lifting indoor mask requirements for vaccinated people. The state’s positivity rate was considerably lower, at one percent.
On December 10, Governor Hochul announced businesses would have to implement a mask requirement unless people provide proof of vaccination. After legal pushback, that mandate was granted a full stay by New York’s Appellate Court, and has the potential to be renewed. It has been extended twice.
Since the “mask or vax” requirement was first announced, the state’s 7-day average has fluctuated. Though it’s unclear what Governor Hochul will decide come Wednesday ahead of the mask mandate expiration, Dr. Whalen emphasized that health officials are keeping their eyes on the numbers.
“The guidance evolves and changes as we learn more about the virus itself. I do think it’s still important for people to know if they have not been vaccinated, it is not too late,” Dr. Whalen said.