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The great mask debate of New York State is settled

The Millerton News Editorial

We only wanted it to be as simple as following a doctor’s order to figure out if we still had to wear face masks in the state of New York, as the coronavirus pandemic thankfully appears to be waning, after the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky said most Americans could stop wearing masks on Thursday, May 13. 

Dr. Walensky made breaking news when she announced last week that after about 15 months, fully vaccinated Americans could finally start going about their normal activities again without wearing face coverings, whether indoors or outdoors, and without social distancing. 

“If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic,” she said.

The sighs of relief could practically be heard from coast to coast. But then U.S. residents realized that the final decision rests with the governors from each individual state. Like in New York, where until Monday, May 17, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was straddling the fence as to whether he was going to drop the mask mandate. He announced that morning New York State would indeed follow the CDC’s new guidance.

According to Dr. Walensky, Americans who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine must continue to wear masks. Masks are also still required for people who go into crowded indoor settings including hospitals, airplanes, buses, trains, nursing homes, homeless shelters, schools and jails. Face coverings and social distancing are also suggested for those with compromised immune systems.

The new rule will go into effect in New York starting Wednesday, May 19, striking the statewide Executive Order the governor enacted mandating masks in April 2020. Private venues will still be able to enforce their own rules as they see fit.

Back when Cuomo instituted that Executive Order requiring everyone age 2 and older to wear a mask when in public or unable to stay socially distant about 800 New Yorkers were dying due to COVID a day. Now, about 20 COVID deaths are recorded daily, according to NBC New York. Those numbers fell to 11 on Monday, the lowest single-day count since last October, according to the governor. Hospitalizations have also reportedly dropped by 60% in the last month.

Initially, last week after Dr. Walensky announced the CDC’s new guidelines, Cuomo said he wanted to “review… them in consultation with [New York State Health Commissioner] Dr. [Howard] Zucker and our partners and health experts in surrounding states.”

Meanwhile, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont opted to drop the mask requirement while New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy decided to keep the mask mandate in place as of May 17.

Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro was one of a number of county executives from the Hudson Valley who had urged Cuomo to get behind the CDC’s new guidance. He made a joint statement with five other county executives calling for the governor to allow fully vaccinated residents to return to normalcy and discard masks. They noted that active cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been steadily dropping day by day and more people have been receiving vaccinations. In fact, more than 50% of the state’s adult population is now fully vaccinated.

We are glad to see consensus on this issue between our state and the CDC. In the short time since Thursday’s announcement it was confusing for folks who didn’t know who to listen to: the CDC or their governor. Conflicting rules would present a real challenge for retailers trying to enforce state laws requiring masks when shoppers could easily think they have the right to go maskless, placing the duty of enforcement on clerks and salespeople and other workers who shouldn’t have to bear such responsibilities. And as we know, the issue of wearing masks can get pretty heated, which is why it’s never great for there to be a lot of gray area as to whether we still have to wear masks.

The New York Times conducted a survey with 723 epidemiologists this month to track the virus. According to its findings, the end of the pandemic will come “when at least 70% of Americans of all ages are vaccinated.” The report continued to state that “the country is not there yet. Nationwide, 36% of Americans are fully vaccinated, and the pace of vaccinations has slowed.”

In order to truly feel comfortable living mask free, we believe America will have to meet the minimum threshold set by the epidemiologists in The Times’ survey of 70% of U.S. residents being fully vaccinated. 

So while it seems most of us can now pull off our masks, for those who can’t, or shouldn’t, but want to, the key is to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Vaccine lines that once took hours now only take minutes, so there really are no excuses. It will not only help protect you, it will protect those around you.

For more information on how to register for a COVID-19 vaccine in New York, go to www.covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov.

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