NEW YORK CITY (WROC) — Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Friday that due to rising COVID-19 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. The new business and venue requirements extend to both patrons and staff.

This measure is effective December 13, 2021 until January 15, 2022, after which the state will re-evaluate based on current conditions.

“I have warned for weeks that additional steps could be necessary, and now we are at that point based upon three metrics: Increasing cases, reduced hospital capacity, and insufficient vaccination rates in certain areas,” Gov. Hochul said. 

Officials from the governor’s office say, 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.

According to the governor’s office, this new measure brings added layers of mitigation during the holidays when more time is spent indoors shopping, gathering, and visiting holiday-themed destinations.

“As governor, my two top priorities are to protect the health of New Yorkers and to protect the health of our economy,” Gov. Hochul said. “The temporary measures I am taking today will help accomplish this through the holiday season. We shouldn’t have reached the point where we are confronted with a winter surge, especially with the vaccine at our disposal, and I share many New Yorkers’ frustration that we are not past this pandemic yet. I want to thank the more than 80 percent of New Yorkers who have done the right thing to get fully vaccinated. If others will follow suit, these measures will no longer be necessary.”   

Nick Nucci’s had a busy night at his Italian restaurant in Webster Friday night, serving more tables he says than before the pandemic, and with half the staff. 

“I can’t complain about the business at all to be honest with you,” he says.

Something he’s not looking forward to is the Governor’s mask mandate due to take effect on Monday. “The only thing I’m worried about with that is, is it going to deter people from coming out entirely?” says Nucci.

Nucci says it could send the message that people shouldn’t go out. “I’m kind of concerned that maybe the numbers are going down the other way now, as far as our numbers,” he says.

Under this mandate, if a person is vaccinated, they don’t have to wear a mask. But it requires a customer to show proof they have the shot. “I don’t know if we have the time to check everybody’s card, you know, and still try to maintain the business,” says Nucci.

With the public, the reaction was mixed. 

“The people who don’t have the shot, they’re the one who got the problem, I don’t see why I have to wear a mask,” says Henry Imhof.

“I think it’s a good idea given what’s going on with climbing numbers,” says Lorri Diggory.

“Not really. It doesn’t really make sense to me for masks to be worn…” says Vanessa Nichols.

Nucci says the timing for this, the holidays, couldn’t be worse. “I just hope that people don’t get the idea that it’s so bad they can’t come out anymore,”

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.

Local health departments are being asked to enforce these requirements, officials from the governor’s office say.    

Several states already have mask mandates in place, including New Mexico, Nevada, Hawaii.

“Community spread requires a community-minded solution, as the omicron variant emerges and the overwhelmingly dominant delta variant continues to circulate,” said acting New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Basset. “We have the tools we need to protect against the virus – and now we must ensure we use them. There are tools each individual can use, and there are actions we can take as government. Getting vaccinated protects you, and wearing a mask is how we will better protect each other. Both vaccination and mask-wearing are needed to slow this COVID-19 winter surge.”    

Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-21) issued a statement denouncing the new mandate Friday:

“I strongly oppose Governor Kathy Hochul’s mask mandate. This is another crushing mandate for New York small businesses who have faced unprecedented challenges throughout the COVID pandemic, including forced closures required by New York State. Essentially, Kathy Hochul is asking businesses to be responsible for checking the vaccine status for every individual, which is an untenable and outrageous request of our business community. This unprecedented overreach of power is no way to govern.”

From the governor’s office

Business/Venue Proof of Full-Course Vaccination Requirement

Businesses and venues who implement a proof of vaccination requirement can accept Excelsior Pass, Excelsior Pass Plus, SMART Health Cards issued outside of New York State, or a CDC Vaccination Card. In accordance with CDC’s definition of fully vaccinated, full-course vaccination 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.    

Business/Venue Mask-Wearing Requirement

Businesses and venues that implement a mask requirement must ensure all patrons two years and older wear a mask at all times while indoors.    

Continued Masking Requirements

Unvaccinated individuals 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 – 5 who remain ineligible for vaccination must wear a proper-fitting mask.

COVID-19 vaccines and booster doses are free and widely available statewide. New Yorkers can visit, text their ZIP code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233 to find nearby locations. To schedule an appointment at a state-run mass vaccination site, New Yorkers can visit the Am-I-Eligible site. New Yorkers can also contact their health care provider, county health departments, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), rural health centers, or pharmacies.

New Yorkers can retrieve their Excelsior Pass or Excelsior Pass Plus here. Businesses and venues can download the Excelsior Pass Scanner app—free for any business nationwide and available in more than ten languages—here.      

Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.