Mask Mandates Are Returning in Many Cities. N.Y.C. Is Holding Back.
With the outbreak of the Delta variant of the coronavirus, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York stopped on Monday before reinstating an indoor mask mandate even as more cities and at least one state did.
City officials have deliberated on measures that may be needed to prevent a more serious resurgence in New York City, the country’s largest city and once the epicenter of the pandemic. Los Angeles County and Washington, DC, recently reintroduced indoor mask requirements; Louisiana did so on Monday, as did San Francisco and several surrounding counties in northern California.
But Mr de Blasio made a different calculation, saying he wanted to focus on increasing vaccination rates and worried that requiring everyone to wear masks would remove an incentive for those considering getting vaccinated now. .
For months, Dr Jay Varma, the mayor’s senior public health adviser, told the mayor that the winning strategy is to focus on vaccinations, and everything else is secondary.
Dr Varma’s focus on vaccinations seems to have impressed Mr de Blasio, who said on Monday: “Everything we do is about vaccines.
But even if the nation on Monday achieved President Biden’s goal having received at least one vaccine to 70% of American adults, New York City’s vaccination rate has slowed, and the city has seen a rapid increase in coronavirus cases – more than 1,200 cases per day, or about six times the number of June.
The increase has placed New York City under new CDC guidelines recommending masks in areas of high transmission, which the agency characterizes as anything above 50 new infections per 100,000 population. New York City’s five counties are above that rate, with Staten Island recording 157 cases per 100,000 residents in the past week, according to the CDC
The mayor said he agreed with the CDC’s guidelines and stressed that he was aligned with leaders in New Jersey and Connecticut who also encouraged the wearing of the mask but did not demand it.
“We want to strongly recommend that people wear masks indoors even if you are vaccinated,” said de Blasio.
The city’s fragile economic recovery may be a factor in the city’s decision; a broader mask mandate could reinforce fears that it remains unsafe to return to work and cause employers to reconsider their plans to return their workers to the office after Labor Day. Large-scale gatherings like weddings could also be in doubt.
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“They can’t go back to masks and think restaurants are going to prosper and people are going to go back to the office,” said Kathryn Wylde, managing director of the Partnership for New York City, a nonprofit backed by the company. . sector.
Instead, Wylde called for a national mandate on vaccines.
A mask warrant could also interrupt Mr de Blasio’s focus on rejuvenating the city, which has livened up his administration in recent months, as he brought his workers back to the office, staged a ticker parade and rolled out plans. for major concerts across town.
Mr de Blasio also said that a warrant might be difficult to enforce.
Shortly after his intervention, Representative Adriano Espaillat and City Councilor Mark Levine, who chairs the health committee, called on the mayor to act more decisively to fight the virus.
“We’re not moving fast enough to slow this down,” Mr. Levine said. “The truth is that in public places, like nightclubs, like movie theaters, you have to assume that there is a good chance that someone is carrying the virus.”
Mr. Levine and Mr. Espaillat argued that New York City should require that businesses such as movie theaters, bars and gyms require proof of vaccination for entry, or proof that a person has received a negative Covid-19 test within the past 72 hours.
“New Yorkers deserve the reassurance that someone who is next to them, in a confined area, has vaccinated or tested negative,” Espaillat said.
Los Angeles County reinstated its mask mandate last month and Washington began demanding masks over the weekend. The Democratic mayors of Atlanta and Kansas City, Missouri have reinstated forms of mask mandates, and the mayor of Chicago is considering one.
In Louisiana, Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, said statewide indoor mask requirements would apply to all people aged 5 and over, adding that the increase in virus cases and hospitalizations “threatened the ability of hospitals to provide care”.
San Francisco interim health officer Dr Naveena Bobba called the city’s move a temporary but necessary measure to “help us deal with the Delta variant, which is causing a huge increase in cases, and we know that an increase in hospitalizations and deaths will follow. . “
Many Republican governors have resisted the idea of mask mandates. Texas Governor Greg Abbott last week issued an executive order banning local governments and state agencies from requiring vaccination and bolstering an earlier executive order banning authorities from requiring face masks.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis last week signed an executive order giving parents the power to decide whether their children should wear masks in schools, after Broward County, the state’s second-largest school district, voted to require masks.
“In Florida, there will be no blockages,” DeSantis said at a restaurant in Cape Coral, Florida on Friday. “There will be no school closures. There will be no restriction and no warrant.
In New York, Mr de Blasio has said he wants to focus on vaccination, and he is considering French-style measures to require vaccination or a negative test to visit restaurants or cinemas, like Mr Levine and M. Espaillat. advised.
Mr de Blasio, however, believes New Yorkers will be motivated to get vaccinated if they think they will have more freedoms once they do, such as the ability to go about their business without masks.
“We want to focus on vaccination, vaccination, vaccination,” de Blasio said on Monday. “We want to make the separation very clearly between all the good things, all the opportunities, all the positives that will be available to the vaccinated people versus an increasingly limited world for the unvaccinated people. So this is the strategic direction.
Mr de Blasio is concerned that a mask mandate could undermine vaccination efforts in hesitant communities after he has had conversations with leaders in those communities and looked at poll data, according to a person who knows his thinking.
Eric Adams, the Democratic candidate for mayor, said he agreed that a mask mandate was not needed at this time.
“I don’t believe we’re here with a warrant yet, unless the CDC tells us; whatever science we have to follow, but then personal responsibility has to come into play, ”Adams told reporters on Monday. “But vaccination, vaccination, vaccination. Let’s get down to the ground.
Mr Adams said he would distribute masks in high-risk communities this weekend.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said local governments should decide whether or not to adopt the federal mask guidelines.
“It depends on local governments,” Cuomo said. “But local governments, you should adopt these CDC mask guidelines.”
Mr. Cuomo also announced Monday that transit workers will need to be vaccinated or tested weekly starting on Labor Day. The new requirement applies to 68,000 employees of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates New York City’s extensive subway and bus system, and to workers of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey who work in New York-based airports, bridges and tunnels.
New Yorkers are already forced to wear masks on public transport and in hospitals. Masks will be compulsory in schools; Mr de Blasio insisted that the classes will take place in person in September.
Mr de Blasio also announced last week that city workers must get vaccinated or have weekly tests and offered a $ 100 incentive to people who get vaccinated at city sites.
On Monday, he said the city had reached a milestone – 10 million doses of vaccine administered – and announced a new policy: a vaccine mandate for new employees in the city.
“Every new person hired by New York City, before reporting for work, must provide proof of vaccination,” he said.
De Blasio, a Democrat in his last year in office, said he was open to considering a mask term in the future.
“We’re not taking any tools off the table in the future,” he said, “based on what the data and the science tell us.”
The report was provided by Katie glueck, Joseph goldstein, Luis Ferré-Sadurní and Daniel E. Slotnik.
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