NEW YORK — The mask mandate that Gov. Kathy Hochul announced last Friday was in effect for its second day on Tuesday. Just over the course of those four-and-a-half days, key indicators of COVID spread have spiked, including a rapid increase in the percentage of cases attributed to the omicron variant.
It’s part of an overall situation that’s resulted in Hochul saying Tuesday that her mandate is justified.
Also, in an attempt to show that the mandate is flexible, she clarified that it doesn’t just apply to wearing masks indoors.
“[We’re] saying ‘vaccination or mask’ mandate,” she said at a news conference at her office in Midtown Tuesday morning.
Businesses should appreciate the difference, she continued.
“That’s an option that they may have thought we’d not give them, but I’m trying to be accommodating.”
She re-emphasized that her mandate requires that masks be worn in indoor public places except in locations where proof of vaccination is required. So at places like restaurants, gyms, bars, and theaters in New York City, which require proof of vaccination, people can go without masks if they choose.
Still, the governor said, the need for masking or vaccinating keeps rising, along with increases in conditions they’re meant to combat.
“Let’s look at the cases,” she said. “Our statewide New York average has gone up 58% since Thanksgiving…Hospitalizations are up 70% since Thanksgiving.”
Adding to those figures from the governor was new information announced by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control, on Tuesday morning, regarding the omicron variant.
“We are now detecting it at about 3% across the nation, and about 13% here in New Jersey and New York.” said Walensky, in an appearance on the Today Show.
There’s pushback against the state mandate, including among elected leaders. Bruce Blakeman, who’ll take over as the Nassau County executive on Jan. 1, announced on Tuesday that he’s joining county executives in Rockland, Dutchess, and Putnam Counties in saying that they won’t enforce the mandate.
“Ninety-seven percent of adults who live in and reside in Nassau County have been vaccinated,” Blakeman said. “We are not in crisis with respect to the hospital beds that are now being occupied, or the ICU units. There is no reason to have a mask mandate.”
In his county, PIX11 News observed a variety of businesses that had mask mandate signs posted, but weren’t necessarily enforcing it.
Also, some residents and customers said they have mixed feelings about the directive.
“I’m not here to debate with anybody,” said one man, who declined to give his name. “You want ‘this is the way it’s gonna be?’ The [governor] told me to do it, I’ll do it,” he said.
Anna Burwell, another local resident, said that she felt the mandate is for the best.
“I don’t blame the governor,” she said. “Thank you for her. And I just think the science, that’s what we have to do.”
Joann Simonelli was not as approving.
“I will follow the protocols, I’ll do what I’m supposed to do,” she said, adding, “Do I like it? No. The next step, they’ll come to our houses and check us. It’s getting too invasive.”
Hochul said that she expected a backlash against the mandate, but it’s still the right thing for the state.
“We are not doing this to win any popularity contests,” Hochul said, adding, “I would not be overconfident in any county about their current state of affairs with respect to this situation, because we just don’t know what the future will bring.”