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New York's governor declares a major statewide shift in Covid-19 policy, while Colorado's governor says he's leaving masking up to localities.
Editor's Note: This story was updated to include information about Colorado's mask rules.
Democratic New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a new state mask mandate after several weeks of speculation over whether she would make the move or not. The governor issued her first significant reintroduction of coronavirus-related restrictions statewide a little differently than her predecessor, but reactions from critics remained the same.
Under the mandate, which took effect Monday and will remain in place until at least Jan. 15, people must wear masks in all indoor public spaces across the state unless a business or venue implements a vaccine requirement. Enforcement will fall to local health departments and businesses that don’t comply will face $1,000 fines but individuals won’t face penalties.
Meanwhile, in Colorado, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis told Colorado Public Radio Friday that masks are "not something that you require; you don't tell people what to wear. You don't tell people to wear a jacket when they go out in winter and force them to [wear it]. If they get frostbite, it's their own darn fault."
In a statement Friday, Polis' office walked back the comments and said the governor meant that "it is not the role of the state public health department to tell people what to wear. He wanted to be clear that he was referring to the state role. ... Of course, he believes that local leaders can and should put disease reduction protocols in place based off their disease levels and community support for those policies."
Polis added "the best and most impactful way to protect yourself against COVID-19 is to get the safe and effective vaccine and to get boosted."
The New York regulations are similar to those in place in New York City, where people must show proof of vaccination for many indoor locations including restaurants, theaters and gyms. Whereas one dose is sufficient in the city to get into places until Dec. 27, when a full two-dose course will be required, the state would require people to have received their full vaccination course at least two weeks ago before entering indoor venues.
As Covid-19 cases started to rise throughout New York and the new omicron variant began to spread, Hochul faced increasing questioning over whether she would reimplement a state-wide, or even regional, mask mandate or begin requiring people to be vaccinated. Until recently, she seemed resistant to the idea. "The localities, those that enforce this are doing it. We support them," Hochul, a Democrat, said on Dec. 2. "But there’s also the reality that it’s almost impossible to enforce this kind of behavior among a population that just won’t do it."
In a shift from the implementation of coronavirus mandates in the past, Hochul no longer has the expanded emergency powers granted to former Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the beginning of the pandemic. With those powers, he issued edicts through executive order with all central authority in him.
Criticisms the Same
Criticisms of covid-related restrictions from Republicans and moderates certainly have not changed even if the mechanisms for implementing them have. GOP gubernatorial challenger Rep. Lee Zeldin condemned Hochul’s return to a universal indoor masking policy, as well as other major coronavirus-related decisions as of late. “I do not support Kathy Hochul's decision to impose a statewide mask mandate, I do not support her threats and heavy handed approach firing essential workers … and I do not support her order ending elective procedures,” Zeldin said in a press release.
State Sen. Minority Leader Rob Ortt blasted the mandate as “half-baked” and “a complete reversal from her previous comments.” And Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay accused her of the same “heavy-handed process” as Cuomo.
Given that enforcement will fall on local leaders and health departments, this kind of resistance may make it difficult to enforce the mandate and vaccination requirements in the areas that need them the most.
Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin recently said that in his steps to address vaccine hesitancy, he has found that Republican and conservative-leaning parts of the state have the worst vaccination rates. Those parts of the state also have the highest rates of COVID-19 cases. “One of the things that we would like to try to do is to find ways to have conversations to take the partisanship out of getting vaccinated, wearing masks and keeping us all safe,” Benjamin said at a Thursday Covid-19 briefing. But if these reactions are any indication, that bipartisanship may remain a pipedream.