Citing rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the state, Gov. Kathy Hochul today announced an order that mandates masking in all indoor public spaces other than businesses and venues that require proof of vaccination.
Acceptable proof of vaccination includes Centers for Disease Control vaccination cards and New York’s Excelsior Pass phone apps.
The mask mandate takes effect Monday and will remain in place until Jan. 15, 2022, when the state will review the measure based on current conditions. Hochul called on local health departments to enforce the mandate, with a maximum fine of $1,000 for each violation.
The new business and venue requirements apply to both patrons and staff.
“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. Now, a mask mandate is needed “to protect the health of New Yorkers and to protect the health of our economy.”
Hochul cited state Department of Health tracking that shows since Thanksgiving the statewide seven-day average COVID case rate has increased 43 percent and hospitalizations have increased 29 percent.
The data show that in the nine-county Finger Lakes region, which includes Rochester and Monroe County, COVID hospitalizations rose from 389 on Nov. 24 to 501 on Dec. 8, a 29 percent increase. The number of residents per 100,000 returning positive COVID tests across the region increased from 80.6 on Nov. 25 to 91.9 on Dec. 8, a 14 percent increase. Monroe County residents’ positive tests in that period rose to 84 from 75.8, an 11 percent increase.
The rising COVID numbers came despite a 2-percentage-point uptick in the number of vaccinated New Yorkers over the same time span.
Currently, 80 percent of New Yorkers are fully vaccinated. While the increase in the number of residents taking the shot is encouraging, Hochul said, given the rise in cases and hospitalizations, the percentage of vaccinated residents is not high enough yet.
Added Hochul: “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.”
Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer.