NY lifts indoor mask and vaccine requirements for businesses


Gov. Kathy Hochul | flickr.org

Sean St. James and Caryl Anne Francia

New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul lifted the mandate that requires indoor mask-wearing in businesses on Feb. 10. Mask-weary New Yorkers have waited patiently for this news, but they shouldn’t expect to do away with the facial covering just yet.

Hochul reinstated the mask mandate on Dec. 13 in response to rising cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. Initially set to expire on Jan. 15, it was extended out of caution, but not without opposition and challenges.

Citing decreasing COVID-19 cases and increasing vaccination rates in the state for the end of the mandate, Hochul warned that New Yorkers should still exercise caution.

“I want to thank the health care workers, business owners and everyday New Yorkers who acted responsibly during the Omicron surge by masking up and getting vaccinated,” Hochul said at a news conference. “But make no mistake: while we’re moving in the right direction, this pandemic isn’t over and our new Winter Toolkit shows us the path forward.”

In addition to the mask mandate being lifted, businesses will not have to check customers’ vaccination statuses. Masks must still be worn in schools, healthcare facilities, nursing homes and public transportation, where there are high concentrations of people.

The news was welcomed by Heather Briccetti and Melissa O’Connor, the presidents and CEOs of the Business Council of New York State and the Retail Council of New York State, respectively.

Melissa Fleischut, the president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association, said that the state’s restaurant industry “could not survive another shutdown” if the mask mandate wasn’t enforced during the surge.

“Now as the metrics continue to trend in the right direction and consumer confidence increases, we remain hopeful that better times are ahead and we can continue our recovery from the darkest days of the pandemic,” Fleischut said in a news conference. “This measured approach balances public health concerns with the need to keep our doors open.”

At local businesses, the news was met with mixed reception. Some people like New York resident Nicole Miller told CBS News that it was time to take “back our freedoms” with the right to choose whether to wear a mask, while others are still concerned about health and safety.

“I don’t think it’s time right now,” bagel shop worker Marcelo Munoz told CBS News. “We got to wait a little bit longer, maybe another two months.”

Local municipalities and businesses will have the right to make their own decisions regarding mask wearing and vaccination status. Theaters in the city will still require mask wearing by patrons.

With the mandates ending, New Yorkers can expect the economy to recover, but it will do so slowly. December ended with the city’s unemployment rate down to 8.8%, but it’s still more than twice the national rate of 3.9%, a number that is attributed to people quitting their jobs, according to a report by The City.

Additionally, the presence of maskless shoppers may drive consumers away from physical stores. Scholars at the David Eccles School of Business in Salt Lake City, Utah completed a research study that conveyed that consumers in all 3,142 U.S. counties were 51% more likely to go to a store physically if everyone was wearing a mask, according to Forbes.

On the contrary, the same study concluded that consumers were 13% less likely to go to a store if only half of the individuals were wearing a mask. The data used for this study were cell phone tracking data, COVID-19 case enumerations and credit card expenditures. Researchers found that mask mandates were associated with an aloft amount of consumer mobility and consumer spending.

If consumers feel that it is unsafe to go outside because of a spike in coronavirus cases, they will likely not leave their homes and spend their money. This causes businesses to lose out on revenue, profitability to decrease and shareholders’ confidence to decline.

Despite this outlook into a post-mandate economy, New Yorkers still embrace this small sense of a return to normalcy.

“That’s like a dream come true, because I want to return to the old days, when we could just worry less about a disease,” shopper Michael Naggar told CBS News.

While coronavirus-related restrictions are being lifted, people should remain vigilant and responsible not only for their own health but for the health of others.