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NYC Doubles Down on Indoor Mask-Wearing Guidelines as New Variant Spreads

Vaccinated New Yorkers should wear masks in restaurants and other public indoor settings, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio

Masked and unmasked customers sit at a bar top in Brooklyn, talking with a bartender and sipping drinks.
Masked and unmasked customers seated inside of a bar in Brooklyn.
Getty Images

In light of reports that the omicron variant has been detected in more than a dozen countries, local officials are doubling down on their previous guidelines about mask-wearing indoors. During a press conference on Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio and city health commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi encouraged New Yorkers to wear masks in all public indoor settings, regardless of whether they have previously been vaccinated or diagnosed with COVID-19.

The recommendation is an extension of the city’s current mask guidelines for vaccinated New Yorkers, which encourage individuals to wear face coverings “when in a store, restaurant or other public space” where owners require them. The updated guidance is meant to reiterate that recommendation and “helps to clear up some of the confusion that we know has existed around guidance related to face coverings,” according to Chokshi.

It’s unclear how those guidelines are meant to be carried out inside restaurants and bars, where vaccinated customers have been dining maskless for months. “With indoor dining right now, I think we’ve got the right approach with the Key to NYC,” de Blasio said on Monday, referring to the city’s ongoing vaccine mandate. “The overall reality is to focus on vaccination in every way and really make sure we don’t need the other kind of restrictions we used to have that were so difficult.” Eater has reached out to the mayor’s office for more information.

Mayor-elect Eric Adams, who also spoke at the press conference, said that his administration plans to continue those same mask and vaccination efforts when he takes office on January 1. “Anyone that believes we are going to play off a different playbook under the next administration of not pursuing vaccines, they need to believe that is not true,” Adams said. “We are going to be on the same playbook.”

No cases of the omicron variant have been detected in New York City at the time of publishing, but city officials are already bracing for the arrival of the new variant, which could appear in New York City within “a matter of days,” Chokshi said on Monday. Last week, President Joe Biden issued restrictions on travel from South Africa, where the variant was first identified, and seven other countries beginning on Monday. The omicron variant, which has since been detected in at least 15 countries, is believed to be more contagious, and possibly less severe, than the delta variant among vaccinated individuals.

As of November 27, the COVID-19 test positivity rate on a seven-day average in NYC was 2.4 percent, according to city data, indicating a slow incline in case counts over the past month. The city’s safety threshold for NYC’s test positivity rate on a seven-day average is 5 percent. Among the tested cases in the past four weeks, 98 percent were found to be the highly transmissible delta variant. More than 5.7 million adult NYC residents — roughly 80 percent of the total adult population — have been fully vaccinated as of November 28, according to state data.