N.Y. Eases Mask Rules as Cuomo Says ‘Let’s Get Back to Life’

New York will lift its mask mandate on Wednesday for fully vaccinated people as Covid vaccinations approach 50% of the state’s residents and cases and hospitalizations ebb.

“All the arrows are pointed in the right direction, so let’s get back to life,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo in a briefing on Monday. “We need to get the exuberance back, the excitement back.”

Cuomo called the easing of the mask mandate a “radical adjustment of rules and guidelines” and said the state took a couple of days to analyze the guidance and align it with its own. Masks will still be required at schools, public transit, correctional facilities and health-care settings.

New York’s mask policy change comes as the state fully lifts its capacity restrictions on Wednesday. It follows Maryland, Virginia, and many other states and businesses that changed their mask requirements after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance last week.

Other states are taking a more cautious approach. Neighboring New Jersey said it’s keeping its indoor mask mandate in place. California will stick with its rules for another month.

As more people are vaccinated and restrictions are lifted, New York wants to bring back some of its most high-profile large-scale events. New York City will once again host its famed marathon, whose 50,000 runners had made it the largest 26.2-mile (42-kilometer) race in the world, attracting people from around the globe and more than 1 million spectators.

This year, the Nov. 7 marathon will have 33,000 runners, or about two-thirds capacity. Registration opens on June 8.

Vaccinated-Only Events

Cuomo also announced the resumption of the Tribeca Film Festival, which will be held at Radio City Music Hall at 100% capacity. It will mark the first in-person film festival to take place in North American since the pandemic began. The music hall will be open solely for vaccinated individuals and the audience will not have to wear masks. Those rules will stand for all events at the iconic 5,500-person venue.

“The whole point of the CDC’s change is to show to people there are benefits to being vaccinated,” he said. “If I’m not vaccinated, I can’t go? That’s right.”

More than 46% of people in the city have received at least one shot, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker. The seven-day rate of hospitalization in the city has dropped to 1 per 100,000 residents, according to state data.

Event attendees will have to show their proof of vaccination via the state’s app, the Excelsior Pass, or by flashing their paper vaccination card.

This practice is already in place at Madison Square Garden, which will be allocating the majority of its seats to fully vaccinated patrons, said James Dolan, the New York Knicks owner and chief executive officer of Madison Square Garden Co. Over half of Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center will be used for fully-vaccinated fan sections starting on May 22, including for the Knicks playoff games.

“We will still make room for people who are not vaccinated, but honestly we’re going to favor those that are vaccinated,” Dolan said. “I understand there are some people who are reluctant, this is a reason why you should get vaccinated so you should participate in the culture.”

New Jersey

New Jersey plans to buck the CDC guidance for now and keep its indoor mask mandate in place in public places, Governor Phil Murphy said at a Monday briefing. The state isn’t “out of the woods yet,” he said.

Murphy said it was too difficult for retail workers and other business owners to be able to know who was vaccinated and who wasn’t to effectively police mask wearing.

“We’re not checking anyone’s vaccine status at the door when you go to the supermarket or a hardware store, for instance,” Murphy said. “I don’t know how we can expect workers to be able to tell who is vaccinated from who isn’t, and it is unfair to put the burden on business owners and front-line employees to police every patron.”

In California, mask mandates will remain in place until the state fully reopens its economy on June 15. The wait will give any residents wavering on vaccinations both the time and incentive to get shots, Health Secretary Mark Ghaly said Monday.

Illinois residents got a mixed message on Monday. Governor J.B. Pritzker aligned the state’s mask guidance with the CDC’s for fully vaccinated people, but Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot told reporters that city residents should keep theirs on for the time being.

The agency’s guidance last week regarding masks “has people confused,” Lightfoot said. “We need clarification.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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