NEW YORK — Under new restrictions announced by Gov. Kathy Hochul, all businesses in New York will be required to impose either a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for everyone indoors, or patrons and employees must wear masks.
Hochul on Friday said she was issuing the new rules because vaccination rates remain lower than expected in certain parts of the state, and the number of COVID-19 cases being reported is on the rise. The mandate takes effect on Monday, Dec. 13.
“We are heading upward in a direction I find is no longer sustainable,” Hochul explained. “And I’ve said all along that I have two priorities: protect the health of New Yorkers, but also protect the health of the economy.”
Hochul said the rules will be reassessed on Jan. 15, but in the meantime, businesses that do not comply will be subject to a $1,000 fine.
The governor said she made the decision after seeing there has been a 43% increase in the number of COVID cases statewide since Thanksgiving, and hospitalizations are up 29%. Some upstate facilities are running out of beds.
“This is a crisis of the unvaccinated,” Hochul said. “These are the individuals that are ten times more likely to be in our hospitals, creating undue stress on those poor health care workers who have been through hell and back. And this is where I get angry. They cannot sustain this any longer.”
While business leaders publicly welcomed the new rules, others expressed concern, particularly food service businesses, like restaurants.
“It’s putting employees in a position to police their customers, it’s putting them in an untenable position,” said Michael Durant, president and CEO of Food Industry Alliance. “And we’ve seen chaos around the country. And we’ve seen instances of it in New York where there have been very difficult moments that an individual has to deal with when another individual refuses to wear a mask.”
Enforcement of the mask mandate will be left to local health departments. Already, some counties have refused to go forward with that enforcement, primarily because they feel as though it infringes on personal liberties.
Many health departments across the state, meanwhile, simply don’t have the staff or resources to enforce such a mandate.