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New York to implement indoor mask mandate for public places

Office of NY Gov. Kathy Hochul

NEW YORK (AP & WXXI News) Facing a winter surge in COVID-19 infections, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Friday that masks will be required in all indoor public places unless the businesses or venues implement a vaccine requirement.

Hochul said the decision to reinstitute a mask mandate was based on the rising number of cases and hospitalizations, which have been especially pronounced in parts of upstate New York.

New York enacted a mask mandate at the beginning of the pandemic in April 2020 that lasted more than a year. The new mask mandate applies to both patrons and staff and will be in effect from Monday to Jan. 15, after which the state will reevaluate.

"We're entering a time of uncertainty and we could either plateau here or our cases could get out of control," Hochul warned at a public appearance in New York City.

New York joins several states with similar indoor mask mandates, including Washington, Oregon, Illinois, New Mexico, Nevada and Hawaii.

The state recorded more than 68,000 positive tests for the virus in the seven-day period that ended Wednesday. That's the most in any seven-day stretch since the start of February. The surge is especially pronounced in some areas of upstate New York, which has accounted for nearly three-fourths of confirmed COVID-19 deaths in hospitals since August.

"We are heading upward in a direction that I no longer find sustainable," Hochul said.

Hochul announced the mask mandate at a social service agency in on the west side of Manhattan, where most people already wear masks. New York City requires vaccinations for indoor restaurant dining, entertainment and gyms, so those venues will be unaffected by the new rule.

Several upstate New York counties have recently enacted mask mandates as well, including Erie County, which includes Buffalo.

Though supported by many, mask mandates also have become a hot-button issue. Republican elected officials reacting to Hochul's announcement called it an unnecessary burden on businesses.

"This newest mask mandate is government overreach at its worst," said Republican Assemblyman Mike Lawler of suburban Rockland County. "Across New York state, we are getting shots in arms and our vaccination rate is one of the highest in the nation."

Hochul said violators could face civil and criminal penalties, including a maximum fine of $1,000. Local health departments will be in charge of enforcing the requirements.

When contacted by WXXI News, Wegmans offered this response to the new mandate:

"Where mandated at the state or local level, customers are required to wear a face mask, regardless of vaccination status, while shopping in our stores. We are focused on complying with these mandates, while keeping the health and safety of our employees and customers a top priority. Our service desks will continue offering free masks to customers who need one."

"All employees are required to wear a face mask in our stores, even if not mandated at the state or local level."

Wegmans did not offer any additional comment about how any state or local mandate would be enforced in their stores.

A spokesperson for Tops Markets said that, " s we have done in the past, Tops will continue to comply with whatever mandates are in place. Our employees have been required to wear masks in our stores since August 2021."

And Tops also did not supply any additional statement regarding enforcement of the mask policy.

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