New York drops inner mask mandate and relaxes Covid rules

Governor Kathy Hochul on Wednesday will drop New York’s strict indoor mask mandate, ending the requirement that companies ask customers for proof of full vaccination or that they must wear a mask at all times, marking a turning point in the state’s response to the coronavirus, according to three people informed about its decision.

The decision will eliminate a rule that sparked legal and interpersonal clashes over mask-wearing, especially in conservative parts of New York. It was due to expire on Thursday and would have to be extended.

Ms Hochul’s decision negates the mask mandate just as a crushing winter surge in coronavirus cases is finally abating. But it was not yet clear whether the governor would extend or drop a separate mask mandate in New York schools, which expires in two weeks.

The easing of New York’s pandemic restrictions on businesses comes as Democrat-led states from New Jersey to California announced similar steps this week, in a loosely coordinated effort that is the culmination of months of public health planning, back-channel discussions and political focus groups that began in the weeks following the November elections.

It was New Jersey Governor Philip D. Murphy who began the effort last fall, weeks after being stunned by the energy of right-wing voters in his blue state, that nearly ousted him from office in what was widely expected to be an easy one. reelection campaign. By organizing a series of focus groups across the state to see what they’d been missing, Mr. Murphy’s advisers were struck by the findings: Across the board, voters shared frustrations over public health measures, a sense of pessimism about the future and a deep desire to return to some measure of normality.

Then Omicron struck, delaying any easing of restrictions.

But slowly, as the number of cases began to fall again in January, talks between Mr. Murphy’s aides and senior officials in other states began to pick up again. Even Democratic voters, they agreed, were tired of the toughest restrictions, growing impatient with mandates, and feeling ready to live with the residual risk. As cases plummeted, public health dynamics changed, too, and officials struggled to find a new sense of normalcy.

Last week, they took their concerns to the White House. When members of the National Governors Association gathered for a rally in the East Room, several called on President Biden to provide clear guidelines for their states to move from the crisis base of a pandemic to recognizing that the virus was here to stay — and that it can be managed without completely turning daily life upside down.

“What does the road from pandemic to endemic look like, and how do we keep track of the score?” mr. Murphy, the association’s vice president, later told reporters and described the discussion. “There was broad agreement that that is the task ahead of us.”

A dam was broken. Within hours, Democratic governors in California, Connecticut, Delaware and Oregon moved to lift some mask mandates, and other states and cities indicated that mandates could soon end. In Boston, Mayor Michelle Wu on Tuesday set benchmarks for when the city would lift its vaccine-evidence requirements as hospital admissions and cases continue to fall.

Even in Virginia, where an executive order making masks optional in schools by Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin is embroiled in legal challenges from liberal school districts, 10 of 21 Democratic senators on Tuesday joined Republicans to advance legislation that would just do that.

While the specific steps vary by state, the message was the same: It’s time to move on.

In New York, the lifting of the corporate mandate would have far-reaching implications for many public institutions, including stores, restaurants and malls, as well as workplaces — a boon for businesses struggling to attract employees back to their offices.

Ms. Hochul’s move would not affect the mask mandate in New York schools, which expires Feb. 21 and has become increasingly controversial, leading to heated feuds between parents, teachers and students over public health and individual freedoms.

Ms Hochul said this week that she hoped eventually to relax mask rules in schools, but that the state needed to examine public health statistics first. “I am optimistic that we are moving in that direction, but I still need time,” she said on Monday.

Her decision also does not appear to affect certain local, federal and other requirements around masking in specific environments, meaning masks are still required on trains, planes and buses and in healthcare facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes.


February 8, 2022, 10:31 PM ET

It is unclear whether some places with their own strict mask and vaccination rules could follow Ms Hochul’s lead and possibly lift their restrictions as well.

In New York City, for example, a vaccination certificate is required to dine indoors, attend events in arenas, work out in gyms, and go to the movies. That requirement was introduced through a program known as “Key to NYC,” which was implemented through an executive order from the mayor and must be renewed every five days. City officials said Tuesday the order was being extended.

While the move to ease pandemic restrictions began in swing states like Colorado, Pennsylvania and Michigan, the spread to some of the bluest states reflects a country entering a new political phase in the nearly two-year-long pandemic. After years of urging voters to follow the science, Democrats in the states are quicker to lift restrictions than the Biden administration, which remains scarred but declared victory against the virus last summer to Delta variant to greet.

The driving forces behind these decisions are the growing number of voters indicating they are willing to live with the virus as it is now, and political calculations about impending midterm elections with Democrats already on the defensive.

Democrats used their “trust the science” mantra in the early days of the pandemic to project competence and harass Republicans who ignored public health guidelines, but even the White House now recognizes the widening gap between public opinion and the advice of the president’s public health advisers.

In addition, some health experts are warning that daylighting on Covid restrictions between the Democratic government and Democratic governors could undermine already weakened federal public health authorities.

“It’s a serious problem when most of the country is actively ignoring the CDC’s recommendations,” said Dr. Leana Wen, a professor of public health at George Washington University. “Governors and local officials see the feelings of the people they serve. And public health needs to meet people where they are.”

In a new wave of national polls, more and more Americans have expressed their willingness to move away from the strictest mandates. Seven in ten respondents to a recent Monmouth University poll agreed that “it’s time we accept that Covid is an integral part of our lives and that we should just get on with our lives.”

The coronavirus pandemic: important things to know

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Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The company quietly halted vaccine production at a key factory and was concerned about meeting its commitments to developing countries. It is not clear whether the shutdown has had an impact on vaccine supplies due to stockpiles.

The rush to turn the page also risks missing out on an opportunity for Democrats to take credit for successfully managing the pandemic at a time when they need to be able to point hard at key achievements, party strategists say.

“We should point to the fact that these successes are due to things we’ve done,” said Brian Stryker, a partner at the polling agency ALG Research, pointing to vaccination coverage and the expected introduction of vaccines for young children in the coming years. a few years. weeks. “Democrats need to take the win on how far we’ve come.”

Mr. Stryker, whose work on last year’s Virginia election indicated school closures hurt Democrats, said it would allow Democrats to focus more on economics and personal finance beyond the crisis point of the pandemic — issues he said. that they increasingly overshadowed concerns about the pandemic.

“This is a moment for us to say that this phase of the pandemic, where as a vaccinated person you have to be afraid all the time, is over and it’s time to live again,” he said. “It will be well received by voters and will also give us space to talk about other things that voters are really concerned about.”

At the same time, Democrats at the state and local levels face a more pressing political challenge than the White House. In midterm races, Republicans are eager to shame and name liberal opponents for the harsh restrictions they’ve imposed — and on instances where they seem to personally ignore them.

Republicans denounced California Governor Gavin Newsom after he and Magic Johnson were photographed maskless during an NFL playoff game on Jan. 30. (Mr. Newsom said he held his breath during the photo, leaving a “zero percent chance of infection.”)

On Monday, Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel called Michigan Representative Elissa Slotkin “another Democrat hypocrite” after Ms. Slotkin posted a photo of herself exposed at an indoor campaign event.

And over the weekend, Stacey Abrams, the Georgian Democrat running for governor, deleted a photo she tweeted of smiling, maskless, in front of a class full of masked kids at a Georgia school.

“This is the Georgia Stacey Abrams will,” a digital advertisement warned the campaign of former Senator David Perdue, a Republican running for governor, tried to capitalize on the misstep. “Unmask our children.”

On Tuesday evening, Mrs. Abrams said she had made a mistake in taking the photo. “Protocols are important,” she told CNN. “And protecting our children is the most important thing. And anything that could be considered subversive is a mistake, and my apologies.”

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