Gov Hochul drops mask mandate for New York transit riders as new COVID booster shots become available
New York Governor Hochul on Wednesday dropped the mask requirement that’s been in effect for the state’s public transportation systems since April 2020, when former Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched a mandate in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I know this is a big change,” Hochul said during a news conference. “The MTA will be rolling out the signage but basically we’re going from mandatory to optional.”
Mask mandates would also be dropped for homeless shelters, detention centers and correctional facilities, Hochul said.
Masks will still be required in New York’s hospitals, nursing homes, and adult care facilities.
New York is one of the only states in the country that’s had a mask mandate for transit facilities and airports since April, when a federal judge in Florida struck down President Biden’s executive order requiring face coverings on public transportation.
Cuomo in Sept. 2020 put teeth behind his previous mask order for transit riders by announcing $50 fines for anyone who refused to wear a mask on public transit. But the order was hardly enforced, as Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police issued just 41 summonses to riders who flouted the rule over the following year.
The bulk of the MTA’s effort to get riders to wear masks centered around public education. The agency launched ad campaigns telling riders about the mask mandate, and during the first two years of the pandemic held regular events where transit officials and volunteers distributed free masks to straphangers.
The MTA launched a new ad campaign Wednesday, which states “masks are encouraged, but optional. Let’s respect each other’s choices.”
MTA spokesman Tim Minton said free masks would continue to be available at subway token booths for riders who want one.
Hochul said her decision to drop the mandate was due to the launch of new vaccines targeted at the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus, which were approved last week by the Food and Drug Administration. She received one of the new shots during her news conference.