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New York Joins Growing Number of States Dropping Indoor Masks Mandates

NYC’s ongoing vaccine mandate will remain in place

A sign asking patrons to wear a face mask is seen at the entrance of a restaurant in Midtown.
A sign asking patrons to wear a face mask hangs from a Midtown restaurant.
Kena Betancur/Getty Images

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Wednesday that the state’s mask mandate, which requires businesses without a vaccine requirement to enforce mask wearing indoors, will come to an end on February 10. The mandate follows similar orders from governors in California, New Jersey, Delaware, and Oregon, who say those states have passed their peak in the latest coronavirus wave.

“At this time, we say it’s the right decision to lift this mandate for indoor businesses and let counties, cities, and businesses to make their own decisions on what they want to do with respect to masks or the vaccination requirement,” Hochul said at a press conference on Wednesday, citing a downward trend in hospitalizations and coronavirus cases statewide. The state’s temporary mask mandate was set to expire on February 10.

The announcement means that residents in Westchester, the Hamptons, and other parts of New York state can effectively go maskless in most public settings even if they are not fully vaccinated. In New York City, where the city’s “Key to NYC” policy has been in effect since August, vaccines are still required to enter most public indoor settings, but masks may now come off where owners and operators allow it.

Local governments can set their own mask and vaccine requirements, according to Hochul, while individuals and businesses who want to keep their mask requirements in place can continue to do so after the mandate goes into effect on February 10. The state’s mask requirement will also remain in place for several public indoor settings, including at nursing homes, schools, correction facilities, and bus and train stations.

The announcement reverses the state’s current mask-or-vaccine mandate, a temporary emergency measure Hochul enacted in December at the height of the omicron variant, and follows similar moves by state officials across the country. California announced this week that the state will lift its temporary mask requirement for indoor businesses beginning February 15, while mask requirements in schools and child care facilities are set to end in New Jersey and Connecticut over the next month.

As of February 8, the COVID-19 test positivity rate on a seven-day average in New York was 4.3 percent, according to state data, marking a decline in case counts over the past month. The state safety threshold for New York’s test positivity rate on a seven-day average is 5 percent. More than 13 million adult New York residents — roughly 82 percent of the total adult population — have been fully vaccinated as of February 8, according to state data.