Why unvaccinated people still have to wear a mask in New York

Coronavirus

Personal protective equipment in a hospital during the pandemic, 2020 (Nexstar)

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)- The State of Emergency in New York may have ended but the state Department of Health remains cautious about the spread of COVID-19.

The same day the State of Emergency ended, DOH readopted some emergency regulations that would allow the agency and local health departments to react quickly should another spike in COVID cases happen, such as its “Surge and Flex” strategy and requiring masks in public for unvaccinated people.

A DOH spokesperson said while it’s encouraging the majority of adult New Yorkers to get vaccinated, people are still dying from COVID and the department is doing its part to be prepared for another possible spike in cases.

Two COVID-related deaths were reported statewide on July 1 — the lowest daily fatality number since September.

The readopted DOH emergency regulations call for unvaccinated New Yorkers to wear a mask in public spaces and when they’re unable to keep a social distance.

Businesses that hold large-scale indoor events with over 5,000 attendees also must require unvaccinated people to wear a mask. However, the regulations give them the option to require all people to wear masks regardless if they are vaccinated or not. If a business chooses to have everyone wear a mask, they have the right to refuse entry to anyone who doesn’t wear one.

The readopted emergency regulations also require hospitals and nursing homes to keep a certain amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) on hand. They also require hospitals to keep an emergency plan in place which includes the ability of staff to work remotely and report necessary data to the health commissioner.

Earlier in the week, St. Peter’s Health Partners in Albany announced its hospital had no one hospitalized with COVID for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. Dr. Steven Hanks, chief clinical officer for St. Peter’s Health Partners, said he expects some cases will arise from COVID variants like Delta and that the hospital was prepared to treat them.

Although state COVID testing sites have been shut down, DOH is working with laboratories and other health care facilities to continue monitoring cases. It said 4,161 state-contracted contact tracing staff were still employed as of Wednesday.

“While New York’s continued case decline is welcome news, contact tracing is still occurring as a necessary tool to stop virus spread,” a spokesperson for DOH said.

The Wadsworth Center sequences approximately 90 COVID tests a day to monitor the prevalence of variants in the state.

Nursing homes and adult care facilities, meanwhile, have to offer unvaccinated residents and staff COVID vaccinations as part of the extended DOH emergency regulations.

The Surge and Flex hospital plan, PPE mandate, and nursing home vaccination requirement are all set to expire on Aug. 8. Social distancing and mask regulations for unvaccinated New Yorkers are expected to expire on Sept. 21.

The regulations could be extended if deemed necessary, according to a DOH spokesperson. The emergency regulations can be read in their entirety on the DOH website.

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