A woman wears a mask as she waits for a...

A woman wears a mask as she waits for a bus in Rockville Centre in 2020. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

A clear majority of New York City and Long Island residents support mask mandates and believe government should increase access to COVID-19 tests, a new poll released Thursday by Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital shows.

More than 60% of respondents believe masks should be mandatory in private businesses, theaters, schools, courthouses and places of worship, according to the Oceanside hospital’s "Truth in Medicine Poll."

The survey will be the subject of a live briefing on Thursday at 10:30 a.m. on the hospital's Facebook page. The hospital's president, Dr. Adhi Sharma, and its chair of medicine and chief of infectious diseases, Dr. Aaron Glatt, will discuss the survey's findings and take questions.

"The data clearly support that the benefits of masking exist," Glatt said in an interview. Even so, he said, "the data also say that that's not the end goal, and that masking itself will not get us out of this … pandemic. And therefore, I do think that intelligent masking is the proper way to go."

The need for masks depends on local transmission rates and whether others at a gathering have been vaccinated and gotten booster shots, among other factors, he said. For example, he said, "I'm going to a small dinner with two or three friends, I know they're all vaccinated, I know they're all healthy, maybe in that situation, I feel comfortable not masking."

Mask mandates have sparked controversies. In Nassau County, newly elected County Executive Bruce Blakeman signed an executive order this month allowing local school districts to decide whether to mandate masks for public school students. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat who signed an order last summer requiring masks in schools, responded that she is not a "pushover" and would stand up to Blakeman, a Republican.

Glatt declined to speak about the dispute, saying, "I don't comment on politics, I can only tell you medically, I do think that masking has benefits."

The new survey found that more than 80% of respondents feel the government should do more to make COVID-19 tests available. The random phone poll of 600 people was conducted during the first week of January, before the federal government started making free tests available by mail via a website, covidtests.gov. The survey has a margin of error of 3.9 percentage points.

Nearly two out of three respondents — 63% — believe the pandemic will last at least another year, the survey found.

The poll also found that 80% of respondents "strongly" support giving new antiviral treatments to all patients with COVID-19, rather than giving higher priority to people who are unvaccinated.

While the pandemic continues, routine checkups are falling by the wayside for 43% of respondents, who said they have put off visits such as annual physicals, dental or eye exams, mammograms or blood pressure screenings.

Glatt recommended keeping up with such visits, saying delaying them could lead to "tragic" outcomes.

"If somebody, heaven forbid, doesn't get their cancer screening and then dies of a preventable or treatable cancer that could have been detected earlier, that's very sad," he said.

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