ALBANY, N.Y. (WSYR/WROC/PIX11) — Get ready to mask up! A mask mandate is back in New York. Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Friday that due to rising COVID rates statewide, masks will be required to be worn in all indoor public places unless businesses or venues implement a vaccine requirement.

“We are entering a time of uncertainty,” Gov. Hochul said Friday morning while speaking at the Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center at Goddard Riverside in New York City. “We can either plateau here or our cases can escalate beyond control. We are heading in an upward direction that I find is no longer sustainable.”

According to state officials, this determination is based on the state’s weekly seven-day case rate as well as increasing hospitalizations. Officials from the governor’s office said that since Thanksgiving, the statewide seven-day average case rate has increased by 43% and hospitalizations have increased by 29%. New York recorded more than 68,000 positive tests for the virus in the seven-day period that ended Wednesday—the most in any seven-day stretch since the start of February.

The new mandate applies to both patrons and staff. A violation of any provision of this measure is subject to all civil and criminal penalties, including a maximum fine of $1,000 for each violation. According to the governor, the respective business would face the fine for a violation, not an individual for not wearing a mask.

The new mask mandate is slightly different from the previous mandate, which started in April 2020 and was listed in June of 2021. Individual businesses can implement their own vaccine requirement to avoid requiring masks.

Some on the front lines of battling COVID said the new measure is needed. “We know that mandates work,” said Dr. Len Horivitz, a pulmonologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. “We know there’s a lot of resistance for whatever reasons, but we know they work.”

Horovitz is seeing an increase in patients with COVID during these colder months, but because these patients are vaccinated, the breakthrough cases so far have been mild. “This is an endemic virus that’s going to be with us for a while,” he said. “Just because we are tired of it doesn’t mean it’s tired of us.”

The nation’s leading Infectious disease specialist, speaking on ABC This Week, said officials have not ruled out the idea of yearly booster shots to fight COVID, much like annual flu shots. And Dr. Anthony Fauci welcomes any mask mandates being put in place during the cold winter season.

“If you were in a congregate setting and do not know the vaccination status of the people around you, wear a mask,” Fauci said. “Masking is not going to be forever but can get us out of a very difficult situation we’re in now.”

Local health departments are being asked to enforce these requirements, officials from the governor’s office said. With new masking rules in effect, you might have questions about the new requirements. Read on for the Frequently Asked Questions posted to New York State’s Coronavirus page.

What is the new requirement?

On December 10, 2021, Governor Kathy Hochul announced masks will be required to be worn in all indoor public places unless businesses or venues implement a vaccine requirement. This major action to address the winter surge comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise statewide and are in alignment with the CDC’s recommendations for communities with substantial and high transmission. The State Health Commissioner issued a determination solidifying the requirement.

Any person, past their second birthday and medically able to tolerate a face covering, must wear an appropriate mask while in any indoor place, regardless of vaccination status. However, businesses and venues can choose to implement a vaccination requirement, requiring proof of vaccination as a condition of entry inside the business or venue. Whichever requirement is selected, it must apply to all within the business/venue’s capacity, including staff, patrons, visitors, and guests. A business and venue cannot do a “combination” requirement.

How is ‘indoor public place’ defined, and what type of businesses and venues are included under this requirement?

Indoor public place is defined as any indoor space that is not a private residence. This means businesses and venues New Yorkers typically frequent that are either publicly owned or owned by private business entities. This includes indoor entertainment venues, concert halls, indoor sports stadiums, recreational spaces, restaurants, office buildings, shopping centers, and common areas in residential buildings.

Does this policy apply to office spaces?

Yes, the requirement applies to all non-private residences, including office spaces. If the office does not require proof of vaccination as a condition of entry, everyone must wear masks at all times regardless of vaccination status except when eating, drinking, or alone in an enclosed room.

If eating or drinking is a part of my business or venue establishment, and I have a mask requirement in place, what am I supposed to do when guests are eating or drinking?

Patrons of your establishment can remove their masks only while they are actively eating or drinking, at which time appropriate social distancing measures, proper air ventilation, and filtration methods are highly recommended. Masks should be worn in all other instances outside of physical eating or drinking.

What if I’m eating or drinking at a restaurant or bar?

If a business or venue does not require proof of full vaccination, all employees and patrons must have their mask on at all times regardless of vaccination status, except when necessary to eat or drink.

What about private events held at a public indoor space, such as a wedding hosted at a restaurant or venue?

Private residences are not included. However, for private events held indoors at a business or venue—for example, a wedding taking place at a privately-owned restaurant or venue—the business entity/venue must require masking or proof of vaccination as a condition of entry.

Business/Venue Proof of Vaccination Requirement    

Businesses and venues that implement a proof of vaccination requirement must ensure that anyone 12 years of age or older is fully vaccinated before entering indoors. Businesses/venues can accept Excelsior PassExcelsior Pass Plus, SMART Health Cards issued outside of New York State, full-course vaccination through NYC COVID Safe app, a CDC Vaccination Card, or another official immunization record.

In accordance with CDC’s definition, fully vaccinated is defined as 14 days past an individual’s last vaccination dose in their initial vaccine series (14 days past the second shot of a two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine; 14 days past the one-shot Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine). The State also accepts WHO-approved vaccines for these purposes. Parents and guardians can retrieve and store an Excelsior Pass and/or Excelsior Pass Plus for children or minors under legal guardianship.

New York State is continuing to review the CDC’s new guidance on mask-use for fully vaccinated people.

Vaccines for children ages 5-11 have only been available since November 2021. Therefore, in order to enter a business or venue that implements a proof of vaccination requirement, children ages 5 to 11 only have to show proof of having had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccination. 

Vaccines have been available for 16–17-year-olds since April 2021 and for 12-15-year-olds since May 2021. At the time of the determination, 63% of the 12-17 age group has been fully vaccinated in New York.

Business/Venue Mask-Wearing Requirement    

Businesses and venues that implement a mask requirement must ensure all patrons past their second birthday and medically able to tolerate a face-covering wear a mask at all times while indoors, outside of physical eating or drinking.  

How will these requirements be enforced? 

We expect that these new requirements will be largely self-enforcing while the State is experiencing a winter surge and as New Yorkers keep their loved ones safe over the holidays. Nevertheless, a violation of any provision of this measure is subject to all civil and criminal penalties, including a maximum fine of $1,000 for each violation, and can be enforced by local health departments.

Who could receive the fine, the business or venue, or an individual in violation of the requirements?

Pursuant to regulation, individuals or business/venue entities that violate the determination are subject to a maximum fine of $1,000 for each violation. Local health departments can enforce these requirements. 

Continued Masking Requirements    

Unvaccinated individuals, including those with medical exemptions, continue to be responsible for wearing masks, in accordance with federal CDC guidance. Further, the State’s masking requirements continue to be in effect for pre-K to grade 12 schools, public transit, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, nursing homes, and health care settings per CDC guidelines.

New York State and the State’s Department of Health continue to strongly recommend mask-wearing in all public indoor settings as an added layer of protection, even when not required. Children 2 to 5 who remain ineligible for vaccination must wear a proper-fitting mask.

Does this mean vaccines aren’t working?

No! The State Department of Health has produced nation-leading studies, published in the CDC’s MMWR and the New England Journal of Medicine, which demonstrate the COVID-19 vaccines’ effectiveness – particularly in preventing severe disease. The Department continues to urge eligible New Yorkers of all ages to get fully vaccinated and boosted as soon as possible. 

Why did the State implement the new requirements?

The new measure brings added layers of mitigation during the holidays when more time is spent indoors shopping, gathering, and visiting holiday-themed destinations. Since Thanksgiving, the statewide seven-day average case rate has increased by 43% and hospitalizations have increased by 29%. While the percentage of New Yorkers fully vaccinated continues to increase—gaining 2% from Thanksgiving weekend to now—the uptick is not fast enough to completely curb the spread of the virus, particularly among communities with low vaccination coverage. 

When do the new requirements go into effect?

The requirements are in effect through January 15, when the state will reevaluate the next steps.

Do the new requirements (via this Determination) supersede the previous requirements (Commissioner’s Determination) on Indoor Masking?

Yes. This determination supersedes the August 27, 2021 determination that required face masks in certain settings such as healthcare settings, schools, correctional facilities, and while on public transport or in transportation hubs. These settings are all still covered under the current masking determination.

Read the State Health Commissioner’s December 10 Determination Letter.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.