Covid News: Omicron Variant Appears to Be Spreading Fast in Washington State
Starting Monday, when New Yorkers run into a store for a quick purchase, they will again have to make sure they have a face mask. A new statewide mandate requires masks at all indoor public spaces that do not require proof of full vaccination against the coronavirus for entry.
Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the mandate on Friday, which is in effect until Jan. 15 when the state will reassess. Businesses that do not demand that patrons be masked could face civil and criminal penalties, including fines of up to $1,000 per violation, and local health departments are responsible for enforcement.
New York City, with 71 percent of its residents fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, already requires proof of at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccination to eat indoors at a restaurant or see a movie. But now masks will also be required unless full vaccination is mandated in those and all other indoor public places, including offices, stores and residential building lobbies.
Individuals are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the second shot of the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines or the first shot of one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children ages 5 to 11 statewide will only need to show one dose to be admitted to places requiring full vaccination, the state said.
Considering that former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo lifted most virus-related restrictions in June, including a requirement to wear masks in most settings, the new mandate is likely to be a big change, particularly in some rural and more conservative areas of the state.
The new measure comes at a time when the nation is confronting a spike in Covid-19 cases, and scientists are unsure of the effect of the arrival of the Omicron variant. The seven-day average of new Covid cases in the United States on Saturday was 119,325 per day, an increase of 40 percent in just 14 days. In New York State, the average was 9,716 on Saturday, a 51 percent jump over 14 days.
New York City has also seen a steep increase in cases since Thanksgiving, with an average of more than 2,600 new cases per day, according to city data, up from an average of less than 1,500 per day three weeks ago, according to city data. Regions of upstate New York are being even harder hit, with some 30 upstate hospitals ordered by the governor to suspend elective surgeries to alleviate the strain.
A handful of county executives, many of them Republicans upstate, have been skeptical of the mandate, with some even vowing not to enforce it. Ms. Hochul addressed them on Monday, saying: “I encourage the county leaders, especially those who are asking me for help, to help alleviate the crisis they have in their health care systems, to look at their own actions and to see what else they can be doing to be a better partner.” She noted: “This is self-induced, in one sense.”
On Sunday, at a briefing in Hamburg in western New York about the damage and power outages from storms the night before, Ms. Hochul was asked about the mask mandate.
“Just wear a mask,” Ms. Hochul said, adding, “I know tomorrow is a big day; it doesn’t have to be that big a deal. It truly doesn’t. I’m just asking people to do something that is common sense, that we believe will help save lives and ultimately drive down the infections.”
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s top adviser on the pandemic, also strongly urged people to wear masks whenever they are indoors with people whose vaccination status is not known.
“Masking is not going to be forever,” he said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” “but it can get us out of the very difficult situation we’re in now.”
New York City had already planned to tighten the rules for dining and entertainment for children ages 5 to 11 starting Tuesday to have one dose to enter restaurants and theaters, and for adults starting on Dec. 27 to go from one dose of a vaccine to two except for those who initially received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But the state’s new mandate supersedes both those rules for now.
A sweeping coronavirus vaccine mandate for all private employers in New York City takes effect on Dec. 27.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday that the city planned to educate and work with business owners as the new state mask mandate rolls out, instead of emphasizing fines and enforcement. For weeks, he has resisted calls to implement a citywide mask mandate despite rising cases, fearing it would weaken the city’s vaccination-focused strategy.
“The strategy of this city has been first and foremost vaccination, and that will continue to be the case,” Mr. de Blasio said in a news briefing Monday. “But we are going to work with the state to implement this mask mandate. What we found is when we communicate with businesses, treat them with respect and a spirit of cooperation, we get a very good result.”
Grace Ashford contributed reporting.