By Eleonora Francica, Juliette Gaudemer, and Soo Min Kim
Starting today, New York City businesses will no longer be required to ask customers to wear face coverings indoors or show proof of vaccination.
As the number of COVID-19 cases keep declining in the Big Apple, Governor Kathy Hochul announced the end of the mandate on Wednesday. This requirement, which has been in place since August 2021 after an executive order from the Mayor, will remain in effect for healthcare facilities, schools, or public transit. While many businesses celebrated Gov. Hochul’s decision, other New York City brick-and-mortars remain skeptical and are not comfortable taking that step yet.
The End Of Mask Mandate: Restaurant, Cafe, and Bakery
Restaurant, cafe, and bakery businesses in NYC seem to have mixed feelings about the lifted indoor mask mandate.
The manager of a bubble tea store Tea Magic, Stanley Chang, is concerned about the safety of their customers. “We just worry about the customer area because no mask is very high risk for our customers.”
“I feel like without the restriction people are going to come in more,” said Ritu Neutane, a front-of-house staff of the restaurant Naruto Ramen.“Having to have the vaccine card and everything was slowing down the business a little bit.”
At the same time, Neutane also fears the contagious Covid-19 virus. “There are going to be people dining in without the vaccination cards and there’s a chance of the virus spreading more.”
Some restaurant owners were unsure with the scale of the lifted indoor mask mandate and kept their vaccine mandate. “We’re still trying to get more information to see if it’s just statewide or if it’s also involved in the city,” said Curtis Kaplan, a manager of The Ellington, an American restaurant. “So we’re still tracking the vaccine mandate like we’ve been doing the last couple of months.”
The manager of JOE & THE JUICE, Mark Lavecchio, 21, shared a previous experience with one of his customers. “This morning someone came in like, ‘do we need these and take it off?’ So I said ‘you can take it off,’ just because I wasn’t too sure.”
However, Lavecchino says that he tries to keep people wearing the mask unless customers are sitting down eating.
“It’s all brand new”, Judith Norell, the owner of Silver Moon Bakery, said. “We haven’t had a chance to discuss it for the moment and we’re going to keep our mask on for the moment.”
The End Of Mask Mandate: Grocery Stores
Removing the requirement to wear masks indoors in grocery stores is not a process customers and owners are ready to go through peacefully in New York City.
Maria Isidro, 53, said she would continue to wear the mask to protect herself and others from the virus.
“You have to be cautious,” she said, referring mainly to places like Whole Foods and grocery stores where some products are more exposed to contact from different people.
On March 16, 2020, Whole Foods closed its hot bars and salad bars where people could self-serve. This decision was taken to avoid contagion among people using these services, which could contact objects touched by someone infected. Whole Foods have reopened their prepared food services in the past year.
Karma Gurung, 29, works at Duke Ellington Gourmet Deli, a place that has decided to keep the in-store mask obligation for its customers.
“I want people to wear masks,” Gurung said, “I did got this Omicron, like three or four weeks ago, and it was bad. I have a feeling like people should wear the mask.”
Attached to the storefront, the sign that reads Face Mask Required has not been taken down, and it’s not in this deli’s plans to do so anytime soon.
Many are concerned that it’s too soon for the city to lift the mask requirement.
Enid Hamilton is a woman who often goes to Trader Joe’s to do her groceries. “I don’t mind what they wanna say, whoever they wanna say. What I’m going to do for me: I’ll be wearing it (the mask),” assured Hamilton. She plans on covering her face until she feels safe, removing the mask only when she is in her house.
Some New Yorkers think that wearing a mask will be essential even after the pandemic is over.
“I might wear one (a mask) for a while after this. Maybe forever, I don’t know,” said Michael Roger, 35, while shopping at Whole Foods. He said that the mask kept him “healthier” and“productive,” and that he didn’t even catch a cold this year.
“I will wear one frequently, even after the pandemic is over. But at least for the next couple of months, at least until it’s completely gone, it will be important to wear a mask,” he concluded.
The End Of Mask Mandate: What Do Experts Think?
On Tuesday, the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walenski said that mandates should not be lifted in public indoor settings where risks of transmission are high. Her comments to Reuters came in response to nine states announcing that they planned on lifting mask mandates in K-12 schools in the next coming weeks.
The debate echoes the ongoing controversy surrounding New York City schools and their face covering mandate, which is the subject of a lawsuit. Numerous concerned parents and teachers urged Hochul’s administration to put an end to the regulations and allow children to return to a normal life. However, Dr. Walenski said that the CDC continues to “endorse universal masking in schools,” and other health officials such as the World Health Organization joined in to recommend keeping masks a little longer. On the other hand, CVS Pharmacist Juanita Vargas thinks that the end of the mask mandate doesn’t make much sense in certain neighborhoods where many businesses never followed regulations.
“There are so many people walking around without masks that it is getting ridiculous, and we may as well not have a mandate at all,” said Vargas. “It’s really upsetting because it feels like healthcare providers are fighting this battle alone. It seems like everyone forgot about Omicron, and I am pretty sure we are going to see another surge soon.”
Charles Stern, a retired cardiologist, and internal medicine specialist sees the end of the mask mandate in a more positive light and thinks that recent health reports are very encouraging. On February 8th, there were 1,550 cases of COVID-19 in New York City, which is a 97 percent decrease compared to the previous month. According to the New York State Department of Health data, hospitalizations have also seen a steep fall, dropping from 6,122 to 1,900 cases between January 8th and February 8th.
“If people are careful and responsible, lifting the mask mandate shouldn’t be a problem,” said Stern. “Cases may be going down, but it is essential to keep your social distance, to wash your hands, and avoid unnecessary travels. I know that everyone is pissed and tired about this pandemic, but this is what we need if we ever want to go back to a normal life.”