Hochul brings back statewide mask mandate in New York

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The mask mandate is returning to New York. Gov. Hochul announced Friday morning that masks will be required in all indoor public places.

The exception is if a business or venue has a vaccine requirement.

The new mandate will be effective Dec. 13 to Jan. 15. After that, the state will evaluate if the mask policy needs to continue.

"We’re entering a time of uncertainty and we could either plateau here or our cases could get out of control," Hochul warned at a public appearance in New York City.

The governor’s office says this action addresses a winter surge that’s already seeing a statewide increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. They say the seven-day average for positive cases in New York has increased 43% since Thanksgiving. Hospitalizations have gone up 29% during that same time.

Many hospitals report that the majority of those hospitalized for COVID infections are unvaccinated.

The surge is especially pronounced in some areas of upstate New York, which has accounted for nearly three-fourths of confirmed COVID-19 deaths in hospitals since August.

"We are heading upward in a direction that I no longer find sustainable," Hochul said.

Hochul said violators could face civil and criminal penalties, including a maximum fine of $1,000. Local health departments will be in charge of enforcing the requirements.

New York joins several states with similar indoor mask mandates, including Washington, Oregon, Illinois, New Mexico, Nevada and Hawaii.

Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin released this statement:

"This is the wrong direction for the state to be taking, especially given the innumerable orders, policy changes and directives already made during the past two years. This is an overreach and it comes at a time when residents and businesses are already struggling."

"Residents are already taking common-sense precautions and businesses, organizations and other establishments have been going above and beyond to keep the public and customers safe. Over 80 percent of state residents have already been fully vaccinated."

"The county Health Department has been providing a seven-day-a-week, round-the-clock response to the pandemic for nearly two years. They are working on contact tracing, immunization clinics and many other duties and do not have the time or resources to deal with yet another state mandate."

"Rensselaer County will not utilize resources to enforce this new state mandate. If the state wants to enforce the mandate, the state will need to utilize state resources for those actions."

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy released this statement:

"I have continually said that any kind of mask or vaccine requirement would only be truly effective if it’s done at least on a regional basis. As we see new daily cases of COVID spike here in Albany County, and across the Capital Region and the State, and as the Omicron variant spreads, I applaud Governor Hochul for demonstrating leadership in the face of a pandemic that has forced all of us to make difficult decisions that prioritize the health and safety of our people. This statewide policy will help us stem the tide of new infections, which will prevent more hospitalizations and deaths as we approach the winter months."

Schenectady County Manager Rory Fluman released this statement:

"Schenectady County urges businesses and venues to follow the new Department of Health regulations regarding masking and vaccination announced by Governor Hochul this morning, which go into effect on Monday, December 13. We also encourage residents to get vaccinated and boosted when eligible. Booster shots for 16-17 year-olds will now be available at all Schenectady County Public Health Services PODs. Appointments are required for booster doses, and available at www.schenectadycounty.com/COVID19/vaccine or by calling (518) 388-4355."

Washington County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sam Hall released this statement:

"The mask (or vaccination) requirement is an action being implemented statewide by the Governor and NYSDOH – New York State Health Department. As Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, I know first hand all of our Washington County, NY Public Health Department resources are currently committed in the response to COVID-19 relative to case investigations and vaccinations (and the many other Public Health functions they perform for our communities). Our Public Health team does not have the resources or personnel to re-allocate from their critical duties they are currently tasked with to conduct enforcement actions relative to the state’s newly issued requirements. We encourage everyone in our communities to be responsible, courteous, and understanding to our business owners and community organizations relative to the state requirement, they are doing as directed and taking measures to keep our businesses and organizations operating and open to the public in as safe and healthy a manner as possible."