Life comes at you fast if you’re a New Yorker who is trying to follow the latest changes to COVID-19 mandates and guidelines. The state’s pandemic appears to be in a state of limbo, wherein cases are low (about 1,800 per day) but not the lowest
One day, New York was lifting the state mask-or-vaccine mandate for indoor businesses. And then the next week, the city was sending at-home tests to every public school student to control a mid-winter surge.
Most mandates have now been removed, generating both hope for a full economic recovery and worry about COVID-19 lingering in vulnerable groups.
All of the updates and policy switches can breed uncertainty, which, in turn, might cause fear or confusion. So, to help cut through the fog, here’s a recap of how New York got here and where we might be going.
Why the mandates started to fall
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the removal of the state’s mask mandate on Feb. 9. The move came a couple days after her counterpart in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy, pledged to lift the state requirement for mask wearing in schools and daycares on March 7.
Both decisions featured in a week where a series of Democratic governors began rolling back restrictions due to rapid declines in cases and hospitalizations. But New York City Mayor Eric Adams opted to take a slower, more cautious approach.
In particular, he wanted to see if any case surges happened after the midwinter break, and the city Education Department sent at-home tests to every student to help interrupt such a possibility, as reported by Gothamist's Sophia Chang. Around this time, she and colleague Jessica Gould documented the mixed feelings and confusion that parents were feeling over all the guidance changes.
With pressure mounting as states moved away from federal guidance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ended the month of February by changing how it judges COVID-19 risk for an individual community, swapping out test positivity for hospitalizations and hospital bed capacity. Its new color-coded system still accounts for case rates and provides on-and-off ramps for mask requirements in schools and businesses, the CDC said.
As Jon Campbell reported for Gothamist, Hochul had laid out a strategy and timeline for restoring schools to in-person learning without masks. But the CDC’s pivot, as well as mounting political pressure, expedited her plan. She ended mask mandates for schools on March 2. In New York City, Mayor Adams followed suit, ending all mask requirements for schools on March 7.
He also decided to roll back vaccine mandates for business customers on March 7, but left them in place for both private and public employees. The distinction meant that unvaccinated people like Brooklyn Nets Kyrie Irving couldn’t go work, but could go to their indoor workplace without a mask. As Liz Kim has reported for Gothamist, businesses such as restaurants can still enforce their own private mandates, but they are expressing mixed feelings about the policy changes.
She spoke with health experts who are worried that people won’t go back to following guidance in the event of another surge.
Ok, so what COVID policies are currently in place?
Masks: New York City residents must still wear face coverings in health care settings and public transit, the latter of which is covered by a federal rule and includes taxi cabs and ridesharing car services. They don’t need to wear them in schools unless they are ages 2 to 4, or at most businesses (outside of health care).
Vaccines: New Yorkers no longer need to use vaccine passports to enter gyms, restaurants and other settings, unless the business itself has a mandate. All workers are technically supposed to have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to enter an indoor workspace. Their employers are supposed to ensure that these staff are fully vaccinated at least 45 days after the first dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. One shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is still considered fully vaccinated.