Statewide indoor mask mandate goes into effect

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NEW YORK CITY (WHEC/AP) – Facing a winter surge in COVID-19 infections, New York State’s indoor masking policy took effect Monday,

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Friday that masks will be required in all indoor public places unless the businesses or venues implement a vaccine requirement.

Hochul said the decision to impose a mask mandate was based on the state’s weekly seven-day case rate, as well as increasing hospitalizations.

The mask mandate applies to both patrons and staff and will be in effect from Monday to Jan. 15, after which the state will reevaluate.

“As governor, my two top priorities are to protect the health of New Yorkers and to protect the health of our economy," Hochul, a Democrat, said in a news release. "The temporary measures I am taking today will help accomplish this through the holiday season."

Additionally, Hochul added she "warned" for weeks that additional steps could be necessary.

"We shouldn’t have reached the point where we are confronted with a winter surge, especially with the vaccine at our disposal, and I share many New Yorkers’ frustration that we are not past this pandemic yet," Hochul said.

The governor said the mandate will be enforced by local counties. She said she has already contacted county leaders regarding the mandate. Monroe County has already implemented a mask mandate for county workers, and visitors at county buildings as part of its recent State of Emergency declaration. As part of the declaration, County Executive Adam Bello had urged private sector businesses to implement a mandate.

Nearby, Erie County implemented a similar phased restriction approach, which included a mask mandate.

Hochul said violators could face civil and criminal penalties, including a maximum fine of $1,000. Local health departments will be in charge of enforcing the requirements.

Several states already have mask mandates, including New Mexico, Nevada, Hawaii.

The Monroe County Republican Committee released the following statement on the mandate Monday:

“It seems only yesterday that Gov. Hochul pledged to New Yorkers that she would give more power back to counties to determine their COVID-19 response. Unfortunately, the governor’s new mask mandate, which goes into effect today, is straight out of the Andrew Cuomo handbook.

“This autocratic move is simply about government control and overreach.

“The new Omicron variant follows the science for what we expect to happen: a more contagious, yet mild virus. With many New Yorkers fully vaccinated and receiving booster shots, our state is moving in the right direction.

“While the rise in cases during the holidays is alarming, it is to be expected. We should all do our due diligence to maintain regular safety precautions.

“However, enforcing mask mandates is not the right approach. Instead, we should be able to trust our residents to make the best decisions for their public health. It’s time to give the power back to the people. If we don’t put an end to it now, who knows how long they’ll keep the reins over our everyday lives. Enough is enough.”