By Barrett Seaman—
As of Monday morning, December 13, masks are required in all public places in New York State—except in businesses and organizations that have already instituted a full vaccine requirement for anyone venturing onto their premises. However, it was far from clear on Monday precisely what that meant to different kinds of establishments or how it was going to be enforced and by whom.
For those enterprises that intend to declare themselves open only to the vaccinated, the rules are clear: anyone 12 years or older entering the premises must show proof that they are fully vaccinated. Children between the ages of five and 11 need show proof of at least one dose.
Proof means showing an official vaccination card or the pass available on the state’s Excelsior phone app.
For those unable to claim fully -vaccinated status, masks are required everywhere under a roof—including restaurants and bars “outside of physical eating or drinking.”
According to the State Department of Health, “an indoor public place is defined as any indoor space that is not a private residence — businesses and venues New Yorkers frequent that are publicly owned or owned by private business. These entities include indoor entertainment venues, concert halls, indoor sports stadiums, recreational spaces, restaurants, office buildings, shopping centers, grocery stores, pharmacies, houses of worship and common areas in residential buildings. Posters encouraging people to wear masks and get vaccinated are available for businesses to use here and here.
In its guidelines issued on Monday, the NYSDoH offered a link to a Frequently Asked Questions webpage that offers detailed responses.
The new requirement comes in the wake of a significant post-Thanksgiving spike and in anticipation of a continued holiday spike. Thus the rules will remain in effect until mid-January. Those who do not comply are subject to a fine, with a maximum civil penalty of $1,000. Enforcement is left to each county’s Department of Health.
“Community spread requires a community-minded solution, as the Omicron variant emerges and the overwhelmingly dominant Delta variant continues to circulate,” said acting New York State Health Commissioner Mary Bassett. “We have the tools we need to protect against the virus – and now we must ensure we use them. “There are tools each individual can use, and there are actions we can take as government. Getting vaccinated protects you, and wearing a mask is how we will better protect each other.”
Not every county government intends to obey—including nearby Rockland and Dutchess, whose county executives are Republicans. “I told the governor’s staff that we cannot and will not enforce this requirement as it currently stands,” said Rockland’s Ed Day, asking “How do you enforce something that’s based on a press release that does not contain adequate information and explanation? Additionally, I cannot and will not in good conscience redirect our health department to change their focus from the vaccination effort, especially with the 5 (through) 11-year-old cohort needing vaccinations and the 16 and 17-year-old cohort having just been approved to receive boosters. That would be utterly reckless.”
Latimer Tests Positive
Here in Westchester, County Executive George Latimer voiced support for the new rule but also disclosed that he had tested positive himself after learning that he had been exposed to the virus at a community event he had attended. Latimer immediately quarantined himself at home where he reports having only mild symptoms, according to a statement issued by his office “thanks to his COVID-19 vaccinations” last spring. Latimer had not yet received a booster shot, which he had planned to get this week.