New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the lift of the statewide “Mask or Vax” mandate on Wednesday, citing a decrease in the rate of infections and hospitalizations. The mandate was imposed in December amid a surge in the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
“Why is all this happening? Because New Yorkers and businesses stepped up and did the right thing,” Hochul said, according to NBC News “And I will always be grateful for them for being the reason these numbers have been declining.”
Over 74 percent of the state is fully vaccinated, NBC reports.
The mandate required businesses to ask patrons for proof of vaccination or require everyone to wear masks at all times. Hochul is letting the mandate expire on Thursday, Feb. 10, according to the New York Times , after almost two months of struggle and legal challenges from conservatives.
“At this time, we say that is the right decision to lift this mandate for indoor businesses and let counties, cities and businesses make their own decisions on what they want to do with respect to masks or the vaccination requirement,” Hochul said according to the Times.
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But state regulated facilities that house a large group of vulnerable populations, such as nursing homes and childcare centers, will keep mask mandates.
As for schools, Hochul said an assessment would be made regarding mask mandates in March as many children return from break.
“This fight is not over. We’re not surrendering, this is not disarmament,” Hochul said. “We’re going to continue to be adaptable and responsive to the changing circumstances.’
Wednesday’s announcement comes weeks after the mandate, imposed on Dec. 13, faced a legal challenge from parents who argued that masks had stunted their children’s growth and posed “an existential danger to our liberty.”
The mandate was struck down Jan. 24 by a state supreme court judge who said state officials didn’t have the authority to issue the mandate without legislative approval.
An appeals judge restored the mandate the next day, allowing it to stay in place while Hochul’s administration sought to have the ruling thrown out.
“We want to make sure that every business knows this is your prerogative and individuals who want to continue wearing masks can continue wearing masks,” Hochul said during her announcement Wednesday, according to NBC. “And I suspect when I walk the streets of New York City... I’m still going to see a lot of people wearing masks because they will feel safer.”