A New York State mandate that people wear masks or show proof of vaccination at restaurants, gyms, theaters, offices, and stores was lifted last Thursday. The decision, Gov. Kathy Hochul said at the time, was motivated by improving Covid-19 measurements, including the percentage of tests coming back positive, hospitalizations, the number of cases per 100,000 people, and vaccinations.
Individual businesses, as well as towns, cities, and counties, can now make their own decisions on masking and vaccination requirements. Masks will still be required in schools, in health care settings such as hospitals and nursing homes, and on public transportation systems. The school mask mandate will be re-evaluated after the February school break, the governor said.
Lifting the temporary “mask-or-vax” requirement for businesses, put in place two months ago, “is the right decision,” the governor said during a Feb. 9 press conference. “Let counties, cities, businesses make their own decisions on what to do.”
In a statement issued after Governor Hochul’s press conference, East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc stated that a mask requirement will remain in place at town facilities “for now.” The announcement cites a review of the federal Centers for Disease Control recommendations and discussion with Dr. Bruce Polsky, the town’s consulting epidemiologist. All town employees and visitors to town facilities are still required to wear masks.
More at-home test kits will be distributed to families, and they will be encouraged to test and report results to the public schools during the week of Feb. 28, when children return from winter breaks. “There will be very clear guidance so schools will know what to do,” the governor said.
“After the break, after our kids are tested, we are going to make an assessment,” the governor said. “We will look at that combined picture. There will not be one number that says ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ “
She also implored parents to have their children vaccinated, and pledged that vaccination sites will remain open and more pop-up clinics will be added.
These measures were announced in conjunction with what Governor Hochul called a “winter toolkit” for continuing the fight against Covid: protecting the “most vulnerable” people, increasing access to vaccines, boosters, and testing; strengthening the health system; empowering local leaders, and putting resources into solving “long-Covid” issues.
“Make no mistake: While we’re moving in the right direction, this pandemic isn’t over and our new winter toolkit shows us the path forward,” Governor Hochul said.
On Jan. 12, there were about 12,600 people hospitalized across the state, but by Tuesday, there had been a 72-percent drop, down to about 3,500. Around that same time in January, she said, the test-positive rate was at 23 percent, but now it’s at 3.27 percent statewide. Cases are down, too, from 381 per 100,000 state residents to about 22, one of the lowest in the nation.
In Suffolk County, 3.52 percent of the 4,347 test results reported on Monday were positive, a significant drop from a month ago.
In East Hampton Town last week, Mr. Van Scoyoc said the seven-day average rate of new cases per 100,000 people was 16.5, which is above the “low transmission” level as defined by the C.D.C. In areas with low transmission, where there are no more than 10 cases per 100,000 people, the C.D.C. recommends that unvaccinated people be required to wear masks indoors and that fully vaccinated people may go without masks. Mr. Van Scoyoc said the town will continue a cautious approach, waiting until the number of Covid cases falls below 10 per 100,000 before modifying or lifting the overall indoor mask mandate at town facilities.
During the first week of February, East Hampton Town’s test-positive rate was just over 4 percent, but by Monday, it had dropped to 1.23 percent. Mr. Van Scoyoc said the continued downward trend is “extremely encouraging news.” The governor has allowed towns, school districts, and other public entities to continue meeting virtually through March 16, and the supervisor said the town’s remote meetings will continue until at least that point.
A Stony Brook Southampton Hospital spokesperson said Tuesday that there were just three people hospitalized with Covid-19.
Governor Hochul called the downward trends “what we’ve been waiting for.”
“I will always retain the flexibility to make adjustments as necessary, “ she said. “I also want to deal in the reality that we have a very good picture painted over the last few weeks.”
With reporting by