On Jan. 28, Kathy Hochul, the governor of New York, announced that she is extending a state policy that mandates citizens to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination at public indoor settings or wear face masks.
The mandate, which came into effect on Dec. 10, was supposed to end on Jan. 15. It was later extended to Feb. 1 and now to Feb. 10. The governor revealed that the state will reevaluate the mandate every two weeks.
“We didn’t know at the time when we put in our mask or vaccine requirement to protect people as this Omicron surge was spiking … what January and February look like… We still don’t know much beyond where we are right now. But again, the trend is much more positive, and that is why I want to talk about the fact that we’ll have a temporary extension of our business mask or vaccine policy,” Hochul said at a press conference. She thanked businesses and individuals for following the mandate rules.
The mandate is applicable to every citizen above the age of two. Those who do not follow the mandate will face criminal and civil penalties, including a fine of up to $1,000 per violation. The mask requirement is applicable to pre-K to grade 12 schools as well.
Compliance has varied across the state, with some quickly outlining their plans to impose the mandate. 31 counties have requested more than $27 million as reimbursement for implementing the mandate, with the money yet to be paid.
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Marc Molinaro, executive of the Dutchess County, calls the mandate unenforceable and impractical. Dutchess County is among the few who have not fully implemented the mask requirement. Instead, the county is focusing on encouraging the use of face masks.
Republican Bruce Blakeman, executive of Nassau County, has asked local agencies to cease enforcement of the mask mandate by using his executive powers. There has also been a demand to end the mask mandate in schools. The Massapequa School District has decided to soon make mask-wearing optional.
The mandate extension comes after two court decisions on the issue took opposite stances. On Jan. 25, Justice Thomas Rademaker of the State Supreme Court in Nassau County deemed the mandate a violation of state constitution. A day later on Jan. 26, Justice Robert J. Miller, the state appeals court judge, supported the state mandate and allowed the mask requirement to remain in effect.
If Justice Rademaker’s order is not stayed, it will “allow individuals to refuse to wear face coverings in indoor public settings where the risk of COVID-19 spread is high, including in schools where many children remain unvaccinated against COVID-19… The irreparable harms to public health that would result demonstrate that the balance of equities and public interest alone warrant a stay,” the state attorney general’s filing had stated.
Around 93 percent of New York state residents aged five years and above have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 79 percent are fully vaccinated. 43 percent of people above the age of 18 have received booster shots.