Hochul extends New York mask mandate for businesses to Feb. 10 as appeals court decision looms

The daily coronavirus case count was about 13,600 on Thursday, down from a peak of 90,000 earlier this month.

David Robinson
New York State Team

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday said New York would extend the indoor mask mandate for businesses through Feb. 10 amid a court challenge to the measure.

The announcement came after a state Supreme Court judge struck down the mask mandate on Monday, prompting the state Attorney General's Office to file a notice of appeal. An appeals court issued a stay Tuesday that kept the mandate in place for businesses and schools during the appeals process. 

The mask mandate for businesses had been scheduled to expire Feb. 1, but Hochul said the state would now be reviewing it every two weeks to consider renewing the measure, or lifting it based on the COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and other factors.

School leaders have noted the mask mandate for schools is scheduled to expire Feb. 21, unless it is terminated prematurely by state officials or the appeals court decision.

Hochul delivered the comments about the mask-mandate extension during a press briefing on winter storm emergency preparations on Long Island.

The development followed a chaotic week for schools and businesses, as they dealt with the whiplash of sudden changes to the mask mandate. Some educators struggled to deal with students sent to schools without masks, while business owners faced pushback from pandemic-fatigued customers calling for a return to a mask-less existence.

While COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have declined rapidly in recent weeks, Hochul on Friday said the mask mandate needed to remain in place while the highly contagious omicron variant posed a threat.

The daily coronavirus case count was about 13,600 on Thursday, with about 8,100 hospitalizations and 171 deaths due to COVID-19. The daily cases were down from a peak of about 90,000 earlier this month, and hospitalizations had fallen from a recent high of about 12,600. But deaths, which are a lagging indicator, have remained relatively stable in recent weeks.

Addressing the positive COVID-19 trends, Hochul on Friday asserted the mask mandates "have been a critical tool in driving those numbers down."

"It could be even more out of control," she added.

Businesses are permitted to forgo the mask mandate, if they require proof of vaccination for entry.

On Monday, a judge in Nassau County ruled that Hochul's mask mandate cannot be enforced, in schools, businesses or elsewhere, because she did not have the authority to enact it.

"There can be no doubt that every person in this State wishes, wants, and prays that this era of COVID ends soon and they will surely do their part to see that is accomplished," New York State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Rademaker wrote in Monday's decision. "However, enacting any laws to this end is entrusted solely to the State Legislature."

Justice Robert J. Miller of the Appellate Division of New York State Supreme Court issued the stay Tuesday, after hearing oral arguments. It remains unclear when the appeals court will issue a decision in the case, though the court set a Friday deadline of this week for filing key documents in the case.

The case challenging the mask mandate was brought by several parents of New York school children, and attorneys for them filed court documents Friday morning outlining support from several school districts on Long Island for ending the mask mandate, citing in part the potential damage to children's mental and emotional development.

Gary Stern and Nancy Cutler of USA TODAY Network contributed to this report.

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David Robinson is the state health care reporter for the USA TODAY Network New York. He can be reached atdrobinson@gannett.com and followed on Twitter:@DrobinsonLoHud