New York COVID-19 Response – Mask Mandate Lifted for Businesses & NY HERO Act Designation Extended Through March 17th

In a February 21st press release, Governor Kathy Hochul announced the State’s daily COVID-19 positivity rate is 1.54% and the seven-day average positivity rate is 2.23%. There are 2,574 COVID hospitalizations statewide, 443 COVID patients in the ICU, 245 intubations, and 38 New Yorkers died from the virus on Sunday, February 20th.

On Wednesday, February 9th, Governor Hochul announced that, due to the steadily decreasing COVID numbers, the State’s mask-or-vaccinate mandate has been lifted for businesses. The mandate required businesses to either require all customers to wear masks indoors or require customers to show proof of vaccination to enter. “At this time, we say that it is the right decision to lift this mandate for indoor businesses and let counties, cities, and businesses to make their own decisions on what they want to do with respect to the mask or vaccination requirement,” Governor Hochul said. “I want to thank all the businesses and the county leaders and the health departments, in places as far away as Erie County, who did the right thing to help us get through this.” Governor Hochul also said that, while the mandate is lifted, businesses and people can choose what to do going forward, saying, “we want to make sure that every business knows this is your prerogative, and individuals who want to continue wearing masks, continue wearing masks.”

Although the State’s mask mandate is lifted, COVID restrictions in New York City remain in place. Mayor Eric Adams said he would like to take a conservative approach adding that he fears a premature decision could lead to another surge in cases. The mayor said that he wants to “get rid of these darn masks so bad,” but added that he would prefer to live with “the discomfort of wearing a mask,” more than risk lowering restrictions too early. “And we’re right back to where we started,” Mayor Adams said. “So, I want to err on the side of caution. My healthcare professionals have not said this is the moment yet.” The mayor also said there was no threshold percentage of vaccinated New Yorkers that would case him to lift the vaccine mandate. Rather, Adams said he would let his health professionals decide adding, “I’m sure, knowing them, because they are very conservative, they’re going to say 100%.” 

On Tuesday, February 15th, the New York State Department of Health announced the extension of the designation of COVID-19 as a highly contagious communicable disease, which triggers the NY HERO Act, until March 17th, 2022. The NY HERO Act, which was passed and signed by former Governor Cuomo last year, mandates that when the Department of Health formally designates a virus as a “highly contagious communicable disease,” all employers must implement a plan to protect their employees from airborne infectious diseases. On March 17th, the Department of Health will again review the level of COVID-19 transmission in the State and determine whether to continue the designation.Finally, on Friday, February 18th, the State Department of Health (DOH), announced that the COVID booster requirement for healthcare workers would not go into effect on February 21st. “In order to avoid potential staffing issues and give healthcare workers more time to get boosted, the State will no longer enforce the booster requirement that will go into effect on February 21,” the announcement reads. “The State will reassess in three months whether additional steps need to be taken to increase booster rates among the healthcare workforce. The original vaccination requirement for healthcare workers remains in effect.”