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New York State lifts indoor mask mandate as rise in omicron cases declines

A person wearing a face mask leaves a store on January 26, 2022 in New York City.

Angela Weiss | AFP | Getty Images

New York is abandoning its strict indoor mask mandate as Covid-19 cases surge as cases and hospitalizations continue to decline in all regions, Governor Kathy Hochul said Wednesday.

Hochul does not plan to renew the health measure, which expires on Thursday. It required businesses to ensure customers were fully vaccinated or wore masks indoors at all times. It marks a turning point in the state’s response to the pandemic, as protracted security protocols have left the public frustrated and sparked legal challenges and protests.

“Positivity rates are down and hospitalizations are down, cases per 100,000 (people) are down and new admissions are down,” Hochul said at a news conference. “So, New Yorkers, this is what we’ve been waiting for: massive progress after two long years.

“We’re not done. But it’s going in a very, very good direction, and that’s why we’re now approaching a new phase of this pandemic,” she said.

The move likely won’t affect places that have federal mask requirements, such as public transit and airplanes. Localities may also continue to require masks in certain settings.

Hochul said state officials have yet to decide whether or not to lift the mask mandate in K-12 public schools. Health officials will continue to monitor the outbreak statewide and will make a decision the first week of March after the children return from winter vacation. The state is working on a Covid safety protocols plan to handle outbreaks in the future, she said.

“We are not surrendering. This is not disarmament. We will continue to adapt and react to changing circumstances,” she said. “But again, the trends are very, very, very positive.”

The decision comes as the winter surge due to the omicron variant Covid-19 finally begins to subside from its winter peak.

The state is reporting a seven-day average of about 7,000 new cases per day, down from a pandemic high of 85,000 on Jan. 9, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. About 6,100 New Yorkers are currently in hospital with Covid, down 25% over the past week and about half of the most recent peak level in mid-January, according to a seven-day average of data from the Ministry of Health and Human Resources. Services.

This same trend is visible in New York, once the epicenter of the pandemic and the latest wave of omicrons in the United States. Average daily cases there peaked at nearly 41,000 a day in early January, but have since fallen to around 2,400 a day as of Monday, state data shows. Hospitalizations in the city recently topped 6,500 on January 11, but are now around a third of that level.

The daily Covid death toll in New York is high but also falling. While the number of state cases during the omicron wave soared to nearly five times that of last winter’s peak level, average daily deaths exceeded the record for this period by about 15%, reaching 229 a day on Jan. 23 and now at a daily average of 136, Hopkins data shows.

“We have always said that these decisions will have to be made at the local level,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters in a separate press briefing on Tuesday. “They need to be done locally, but I’m really encouraged that the cases continue to drop dramatically.”

Wednesday’s announcement makes New York the latest Democratic-led state to strip some of its mandates.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced earlier this week that students and school employees will no longer be required to wear face coverings. It sparked a flurry of other state officials saying they would end some pandemic measures.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said he would let some of the state mask measures expire. Officials in Connecticut, Delaware and Oregon have also said they will withdraw some mask measures.

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