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NY mask mandate still in effect after stay is issued

COVID K95 mask
Jim Levulis
COVID K95 mask

With New York’s public indoor mask mandate being debated in court, Governor Kathy Hochul is urging people to continue wearing masks as COVID-19 infection rates fall from peaks earlier this month. The mandate remains in effect after a state Appellate Court Tuesday afternoon issued a stay on a judge’s decision Monday that the state Health Department didn’t have the authority to implement the mandate and that it was up to the state Legislature. Hochul, a Democrat, said earlier Tuesday she disagrees 100 percent with the judge.

"We believe this will be settled very shortly," Hochul said during a COVID briefing. "I'm encouraging parents and students to continue doing what they're doing because the last thing I want to see is a different trend because people gave up on the masks. I am so looking forward to the day to say 'these are history...we don't have to do this any longer.' All of us are. I don't want to keep any requirements for safety in place a day longer than necessary. But I will not do it a day before we can do it safely.”

The New York State Education Department has been telling schools to continue to require masks despite the ruling, but some districts had dropped the requirement.

Hochul says she is confident the state’s legal case will prevail.

"As Governor, my top priority is protecting the people of this state," Hochul said after the stay was issued. "These measures are critical tools to prevent the spread of COVID-19, make schools and businesses safe, and save lives. I commend the Attorney General for her defense of the health and safety of New Yorkers, and applaud the Appellate Division, Second Department for siding with common sense and granting an interim stay to keep the state's important masking regulations in place. We will not stop fighting to protect New Yorkers, and we are confident we will continue to prevail."

“Nearly three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, we know that wearing a mask saves lives," Democratic Attorney General Tish James said in a statement. "This mandate and today’s decision are critical in helping to stop the spread of this virus and protect individuals young and old. We will continue to do everything in our power to prioritize the health and wellbeing of all New Yorkers.”

State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa says given the stay, the mandate is still in effect.

"We are pleased the Appellate Division granted the application by the Department of Health and the Governor’s office, confirming the lower court’s decision is stayed pending further proceedings," Rosa said in a statement. "As such, the mask mandate remains in effect for schools across the state. We support Governor Hochul and the state Department of Health as they continue with the appeal. We thank the members of our school communities for their patience during this process."

"I am disappointed the Appellate Division issued a stay that will keep the unconstitutional mask mandate in place while the appeals process plays out in the courts," State Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, a Republican, said in a statement. "We are two years into this pandemic, and it’s absurd that this administration is still ruling by mandates – which continue to cause confusion, frustration, and division among New Yorkers. If the Governor truly thinks a mask mandate is in the best interests of New Yorkers, she should send a bill to be debated before the Legislature. New Yorkers are fed up — it’s time to move beyond one-size fits all mandates and return to a system that provides checks and balances."

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org