New York Gov. Kathy Hochul imposes statewide mask mandate amid spread of omicron Covid variant

Kathy Hochul, governor of New York, arrives to speak at a news conference in New York, U.S., on Monday, Sept 30, 2021.
Angus Mordant | Bloomberg | Getty Images

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday announced a statewide mask mandate for all indoor public places unless the businesses or venues already have a vaccine requirement in place. 

The new mandate goes into effect Monday through Jan. 15, at which point the state will reassess its effectiveness based on Covid-19 conditions. 

Violations will bring civil and criminal penalties with a maximum fine of $1000 for each violation, according to a press release. Local health departments in the state will enforce the mandate. 

It is the latest move by the governor to combat the spread of the new, highly mutated omicron variant, which has been confirmed in at least 20 cases across the state as of Thursday. The measure also serves as “added layers of mitigation” during the holiday season when family and friends are spending more time indoors.    

“The temporary measures I am taking today will help accomplish this through the holiday season,” Hochul said in a press release. “We shouldn’t have reached the point where we are confronted with a winter surge, especially with the vaccine at our disposal, and I share many New Yorkers’ frustration that we are not past this pandemic yet.”

The decision was based on the state’s weekly seven-day case rate and increasing hospitalization numbers, according to the press release. Since Thanksgiving, the statewide seven-day average has spiked by 43% and hospitalizations have risen by 29%. 

Hochul added that state vaccination rates have climbed 2% since the Thanksgiving weekend, bringing the total to more than 80% of fully vaccinated New Yorkers.

On Thursday, the governor also said nearly 500,000 booster doses were distributed in the state during the last week, a 50% increase from the previous week.

However, she noted that the “uptick is not fast enough to completely curb the spread of the virus, particularly among communities with low vaccination coverage.”

“I have warned for weeks that additional steps could be necessary, and now we are at that point based upon three metrics: Increasing cases, reduced hospital capacity, and insufficient vaccination rates in certain areas,” Hochul said in the press release, adding that the mask mandate “will no longer be necessary” if “others will follow suit” and get vaccinated.

New York state health commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said vaccinations and masks are necessary to slow spread of the new variant.

“Community spread requires a community-minded solution, as the Omicron variant emerges and the overwhelmingly dominant Delta variant continues to circulate,” Bassett said. “We have the tools we need to protect against the virus – and now we must ensure we use them.”

But Bassett on Thursday emphasized that the delta variant remains the primary driver of high case rates and hospitalizations in the state and across the U.S. 

Delta still accounts for more than 99% of all genetically sequenced positive samples in the U.S., CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walenksy said during a White House press briefing on Tuesday.

New York joins several other states with mask mandates, including New Mexico, Nevada and Hawaii. 

A number of local governments where omicron has been detected have bolstered Covid protocols in recent weeks to curb the spread. 

New York City, for instance, issued an advisory strongly recommending that everyone wear masks indoors in public places at all times regardless of vaccination status. 

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