Masks are once again required in all indoor public places in New York state, unless an establishment requires proof of full vaccination against the coronavirus, Gov. Kathy Hochul said on Dec. 10. The mandate will remain in place until Jan. 15, when Hochul said she would take another look at where New York stands, and adapt the mandate to the circumstances.
“As governor, my top priority is to protect the health of New Yorkers and the health of our economy,” Hochul said at a news conference on Monday, “and these temporary measures will help us get through the holiday season safely.”
Local businesses were expected to do their best to comply with the mandate.
“Grassroots is all about community and respect,” said Rob Mansfield, owner of Grassroots, a health-centric cafe in Glen Head. “We live here, and want to make it as wonderful as it can be. So, yes, wear a mask when inside, period. Of course, if you’re sitting down and eating or drinking, you can take it off. We need to stay safe.”
Anyone over age 2 is now required to wear a mask in an indoor public space. Businesses and venues that choose to verify vaccination will not be required to also mandate masks, according to Hochul’s office. Those who violate the mandate are subject to a $1,000 fine. Local health departments will be tasked with enforcing it.
“In our town particularly, business moves much slower — it’s not a highway town like Huntington, where businesses see a large amount of foot traffic each day,” Ravin Chetram, vice president of the Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce, said. “I don’t think the smaller businesses will be pressing on their few customers who walk in there for proof of vaccination or anything.”
Hochul’s mandate, while upsetting to some New Yorkers, is nothing new to North Shore residents, who, local business owners say, have complied with masking policies without protest, or have adopted mask-wearing as part of their normal routine.
“Since the new mask mandate, our business has not changed at all,” said Laura Escobar, owner of Hive Market and Maker’s Space, a workspace and specialty retail space in Oyster Bay. “We’ve been open for just over seven months now, and most people who [have been] entering our shop from day one come in already wearing a mask. We’ve recently begun offering private classes so that people can stay within their ‘bubble’ and feel safer, while still staying connected.”
While many Long Island communities are reporting instances of customers refusing to wear masks, most businesses on the North Shore say the need for confrontation has been minimal. “Before the mandate, at least half of our clients wore masks into the shop as part of their everyday routine, and asking those that didn’t hasn’t been an issue,” Kimberle Frost, co-owner of Frost Ceramics and Mercantile in Sea Cliff, said. “We all realize we have to take precautions to protect ourselves and our communities.”
Hochul’s decision came just days after the emergence of the Omicron variant in New York state, along with a predicted winter surge of Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations statewide, threatening a hospital bed shortage like the one seen last year.
“I don’t think too many people are being affected for this one-month period,” Chetram said. “To walk into a store for 15 minutes, I don’t really feel the impact. If it [extends], things are going to change, people are going to start getting upset. If a business loses just one customer because of it, that affects that business.”
Although the percentage of New Yorkers fully vaccinated continues to increase, that rise “is not fast enough to completely curb the spread of the virus,” a Dec. 10 press release issued by the state read. Since Thanksgiving, the statewide seven-day average case rate has increased by 43 percent, and hospitalizations have increased by 29 percent.
“It’s sad to see the numbers going back up again, and I hate to speculate, but we may experience another shutdown,” Frost said. “The good news is we’re better prepared, but it will still have some impact on small businesses that have already suffered . . . Fingers crossed we don’t have another shutdown and can navigate through this next phase together.”
“We will continue to do our part with helping to stop the spread, and we know our customers will too,” Escobar said. “Most of [them] are local, and want us to not only stay in business, but want to support us, and that means the world to us.”