Governor Kathy Hochul holds a COVID-19 briefing in New York City where she introduces the Winter Tool Kit. Photo credit: Governor Kathy Hochul Flickr page

Valentine’s Day will be sweet for some, sour for others with mask mandate removal in New York

New York Governor Kathy Hochul followed her tri-state colleagues in beginning to roll out mask removal mandates. 

Last week, New York’s first woman governor announced that showing proof of a COVID-19 vaccine along with wearing a mask as a requirement to work or enter businesses ended, right before the holiday.

“As we begin a new phase in our response to this pandemic, my top priority is making sure we keep New York safe, open and moving forward,” Gov. Hochul said in a release. However, the mandate still remains at healthcare facilities like hospitals and nursing homes, along with shelters, as well as transportation with a focus on municipal employees.

Pivoting away from Gov. Hochul’s decision, The Gothamist reported that newly installed New York City mayor, Eric Adams, is opting for a more measured approach. He prefers city-goers move about their daily lives with “the discomfort of wearing a mask” rather than lift restrictions earlier than need be. A February 6 report listed 191,950 cases of reinfection in the region.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., NYC became the first and one of the largest epicenters in the country. Infection rates increased so fast that in some areas, hospital beds were in short supply. Yet, the city bounced back, but the health crisis detonation left many grieving. 

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To date, there have been 4,852,069 reported infections in the state with 2,254,232 of those in the five boroughs. Brooklyn, where Mayor Adams resides and grew up, was the hardest hit in NYC. In Brooklyn’s Bushwick area, one out of three people were diagnosed with COVID-19, and one out of every 259 died of it.

“People were driving their loved ones to the hospital, never to see them again,” Mayor Adams recounted at a press conference launching a health equity campaign at a newly opened community health clinic located in Bushwick. 

Mayor Adams said the high death count in the city was a result of a “bad distribution of resources throughout our federal and state level.” Committed to addressing “decades of inequalities and inefficiencies” for underserved communities, part of the clinic is to support residents who are recovering COVID-19 patients.

In predominantly low income and communities of color, where residents were at higher risks of contracting the novel coronavirus and subsequent variants, fewer COVID tests were administered than other districts. “The COVID-19 pandemic has brought us to the realization of how imperative it is to take comprehensive measures and prepare for [a] public-health crisis, such as the one we are experiencing today,” New York State Assemblymember Maritza Davila remarked elatedly at the launch of the third NYC Health + Hospitals/Gotham Health, a state-of-the art facility.

Governor Kathy Hochul describes her vision for the state’s infrastructure when she participates in a New York City conversation, “Rebuilding New York,” sponsored by the Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy’s Institute of Politics and Global Affairs, Cornell University. Photo credit: Katherine Hochul Flickr page

Preparing for the long haul

On the other hand, assuring that analysts looked over the previous year’s  high-gathering times data  such as Valentine’s Day, Gov. Hochul explained that they began planning around Thanksgiving 2021. When the Omicron variant began to emerge across the globe, the governor said they implemented a mask and vaccine mandate on Dec. 10, 2021. “We do not want to shut down our economy . . . I said from the beginning, we’re keeping New York open, but how can we protect people knowing what is coming across the horizon?”

Gov. Hochul further explained. “[We] talked about making sure that we had capacity [at] our hospitals” by deciding to allow hospitals to make room for stays, and even being ready to call the National Guard for assistance in nursing homes.

Indeed, the area experienced a winter surge in new cases toppling the numbers of previous spikes. While the Omicron variant resulted in increased hospitalizations, city health officials reported more unvaccinated patients were seen. Now as the Omicron variant is on a downward spiral, Gov. Hochul says her team will consider mask removal at schools.

Moreover, the Governor  is pushing for a full return to business as usual. “I really do want everybody back in their offices, just want to say that . . . we thrive more when everybody comes back in person, but we’ll cut you slack a little bit longer,” Hochul maintained  at the Cornell Institute of Politics.

But there are those who do not agree. “‘Normal’ never worked for most NYers,” tweeted Public Advocate, Jumaane Williams. Recently declaring his candidacy for state governor , Williams added a solution for leadership– implement “hybrid models” as an alternative working flow, the  new normal. 

While the state and NYC are far from its pre-pandemic condition, many move to rethink the economy and living in general. As for businesses that made it through the roughest times of quarantine, they now must work around inflation of food and gifts for lovers on Valentine’s Day.

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