Will New York City reinstitute mask mandate? What about upstate communities? What we know
Some lawmakers are calling on New York City to follow Los Angeles in reinstating a mask mandate for vaccinated people as the highly contagious delta variant fuels a fourth wave of COVID-19 nationally.
But Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday resisted the mounting pressure to once again require mask wearing in indoor settings, citing the ongoing effort to boost vaccinations that have proven highly effective at preventing severe illness and death caused by coronavirus infections.
“Masks have value, unquestionably. But masks are not going at the root of the problem, vaccination is,” he said during a media briefing.
“We do not intend to mask mandate,” he added. “We do intend to double down on vaccination.”
Meanwhile, state Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, urged all New Yorkers to voluntarily don masks again, citing a 167% increase in COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population statewide over the past two weeks.
“At this point I strongly recommend that New Yorkers wear a mask when in public indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status,” Krueger wrote on Twitter, citing New York Times reporting that shows New York is in the top 10 states for COVID-19 growth rate per 100,000 people.
What health officials say about delta, mask mandates
State and New York City health officials have maintained that mandatory mask wearing be limited to unvaccinated New Yorkers, as is currently required.
“The delta variant is concerning,” said New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi. “But our concern is primarily for people who remain unvaccinated.”
Masks are also still required in select high-risk settings, including health care offices, public transit and nursing homes.
To understand the level of protection against COVID-19 offered by vaccines, consider out of more than 159 million Americans fully vaccinated, just 1,063 deaths linked to the respiratory disease have been reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday expanded on the disparity in protection based on vaccination status.
"After over a year of containing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are now being told that COVID is now mainly a pandemic among the unvaccinated," Cuomo said in a statement.
The governor also urged New Yorkers to get vaccinated to “best protect yourself and your loved ones against the variants spreading through the nation."
Still, some experts and federal health officials have recommended a more localized approach to masking, suggesting vaccinated people should only wear face coverings in communities with low vaccination rates and rising infections.
“Instead of vax it OR mask it, the emerging data suggests CDC should be advising to vax it and mask it in areas with (rising) cases and positivity until we see numbers going back down again," former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said on Twitter.
In California, where the Los Angeles County indoors mask mandate took effect Saturday, health officials issued dire warnings about delaying mask mandates.
“We expect to keep masking requirements in place until we begin to see improvements in our community transmission of COVID-19," Los Angeles County Health officer Dr. Muntu Davis said in a statement.
"But waiting for us to be at high community transmission level before making a change would be too late," he added.
On June 15, the day of its full reopening, Los Angeles saw 210 new COVID-19 cases. One month later, it confirmed 1,537 new cases, the highest number of new cases since mid-March. The county's test positivity rate was about 3.7%; on June 15, the test positivity rate was around 0.5%.
How fast is delta variant, vaccine spreading in New York
In New York, new coronavirus cases leaped in the week ending Sunday, rising 56% as 6,194 cases were reported. The previous week had 3,970 new cases of the virus that causes COVID-19, a USA TODAY Network analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows.
The test positivity rate had hovered well below 1% for months, before the seven-day average recently began ticking above 1%. It stood at about 1.2 on Sunday, with 823 new cases.
In New York City, the delta variant accounted for 69% of COVID-19 samples being sequenced, Chokshi said Monday.
Experts believe the strain is also predominant statewide, but it is difficult to cite many details because sequencing is conducted from sample gathered randomly from across the state.
Meanwhile, New York ranked 14th among states in share of people receiving at least one shot, with 61.7% of its residents at least partially vaccinated. The national rate is 56%, a USA TODAY analysis of CDC data shows.
Still, signs of slowing demand for shots included the decline in the seven-day tally of vaccinations, which totaled about 235,134 doses for the week ending Sunday, down from about 1.5 million shots during the peak week in mid-April.
Mike Stucka of USA TODAY contributed to this report.
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