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Indoor mask mandate to expire Thursday as COVID-19 cases steadily decline, governor announces

As New York approaches a “new phase of the pandemic,” Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) on Wednesday announced the state mask-or-vaccine requirement for indoor businesses will be lifted Thursday.

The decision of whether to enact any mask mandates will now be left up to individual counties or businesses, Ms. Hochul said.

“New Yorkers, this is what we’ve waited for,” she said.

The governor cited data on the number of cases, daily positivity rate and hospitalizations for making the decision. She said each metric is now back below the levels seen in early December and credited the state’s high vaccination rates for limiting hospitalizations.

A mask mandate remains in effect in certain places, such as health care settings, schools, state-regulated adult care facilities and high-crowded public areas like train stations, subways and airports.

Ms. Hochul said the question of masks in schools is the most common question she receives. She said an assessment will be made on the first week of March based on all the latest metrics.

She said the state will prioritize testing for when students return to school after the upcoming midwinter break.

Neighboring states in New Jersey and Connecticut have announced firm dates for when mask mandates in schools will be lifted. She said it’s a “very strong possibility” if data remains on a similar level to where it currently stands that the school mask mandate could be lifted in early March and said New York is on similar timelines to the neighboring states.

The mask mandate or proof of vaccination for businesses was reinstated Dec. 13 as COVID-19 cases began to rise in the region due to the Omicron variant. Cases went on to hit the highest levels recorded during the pandemic in late December and early January, climbing past 6,000 per day at one point in Suffolk County and over 90,000 across the state in one day. The mandate was originally set to run through Jan. 15, but was extended to the end of the month and then again to Feb. 10.

Cases in Suffolk County have averaged at 429 per day over the week from Feb. 1-7, a dramatic drop from one month earlier when cases averaged over 5,600 per day from Jan. 1-7. The number of cases from Feb. 1-7 is now on par with levels seen in mid-November.

Hospitalizations in Suffolk County stood at 358 on Monday and nine fatalities were reported.