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New York should follow CDC, ease mask rules, Curran says

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said Friday that

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said Friday that the state should adopt new CDC guidelines to require no masks for vaccinated individuals in most instances. She is shown on Thursday in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran on Friday called on New York State to adopt the latest CDC guidelines that vaccinated residents can generally stop using masks.

But Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has not made a decision on whether to adopt the guidelines in New York, and New Jersey's governor said Friday he would not immediately do so.

Long Islanders interviewed by Newsday also seemed to have mixed opinions on whether the state should follow the guidelines, with some saying they weren't ready to give up their masks.

Curran said in a statement that "New York State should immediately adopt the CDC guidance that those who are fully vaccinated against COVID no longer need to wear masks or physically distance, indoors or outdoors in almost all circumstances. The vaccine works and our residents need to return to normal life."

The new guidelines were issued Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In New Jersey, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday his state's mask mandate would remain in place. Massachusetts also kept its mask requirements in place for now.

Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Ohio, Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Kentucky, Washington, Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, North Carolina, Kansas, Colorado and Rhode Island announced plans Friday to fall in line with the CDC guidance either immediately or in the coming weeks, The Associated Press reported.

Some officials said the updated guidelines were long overdue, would help usher in a greater sense of normalcy, and were appropriate since COVID-19 cases and deaths were declining.

The statewide daily level of positive results in tests from Thursday was 1.01%, the lowest since Oct. 10, state data released Friday showed. The seven-day average was 1.22%, the lowest since Oct. 19.

But others contended the new guidelines would lead to confusion, since people who were not vaccinated may act like they were and refuse to wear a face covering — and no one would know who was or wasn't actually vaccinated. They also contended it was premature to ditch masks because the virus had not been stamped out and could mutate.

For store owners, the guidelines could pose problems, since it will be impossible to know which customers are not vaccinated and should wear a mask. Asking customers might be awkward, especially for businesses still struggling to emerge from a pandemic that devastated their bottom line.

Across the state, a total of 25 people died on Thursday of causes linked to the virus, including one each in Suffolk and Nassau.

The relaxed rules still call for the use of masks and social distancing when traveling on airplanes, trains and buses, and at health care facilities, prisons and homeless shelters. But they mark a major turning point in the country’s more than yearlong battle with the virus.

"Once you are fully vaccinated, two weeks after your last dose, you can shed your mask," said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky during a virtual news briefing held by the White House on Thursday.

President Joe Biden, in a Rose Garden address, called the new rules "a great milestone."

Cuomo said Thursday a decision would be forthcoming for the state. "In New York, we have always relied on the facts and the science to guide us throughout the worst of this pandemic and in our successful reopening," he said.

He did not comment on the matter on Friday. Neither did Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.

One Long Beach enterprise, Blacksmith's Bakery, already has encountered some confusion and criticism after it began asking customers to follow the new, relaxed mask-wearing guidelines.

A black sign with white letters on Instagram now advises either masks or proofs of vaccine are needed to enter. Alternatively, customers can be waited on from the takeout window.

"We want everybody to be safe," co-owner Mike Smith said Friday. "There's a lot of backlash; everybody's like a bully these days."

Some social media posts questioned whether fake vaccination cards might be used. Another doubted vaccines worked.

Other Long Islanders seemed to have mixed views about the CDC guidelines.

Although some people went mask-free in Eisenhower Park on Friday, others interviewed by Newsday said they were not ready to give up the protection.

"Personally, I’m going to continue wearing a mask ‘cause that’s just what I feel comfortable with," said Kimeka Reid, of Roosevelt.

Dan Carbonare of Levittown said since he is vaccinated, "I can’t see wearing a mask outside. I mean, inside you got to be a little careful."

One infectious disease expert, Dr. Bruce Hirsch of Northwell Health, said, "I’m still nervous, I have to tell you, I’m still holding on to my mask for awhile."

The latest COVID-19 indicators showed a continuing decline in the state, with figures approaching last summer's lows.

The seven-day average was 1.07% on Long Island and 1.04% in New York City. The number of new confirmed cases was 112 in Nassau, 134 in Suffolk, and 802 in New York City.

The state continued to push forward with its vaccination campaign. Cuomo said 140,551 shots were administered in the past 24 hours, and 911,013 in the past seven days.

A total of 17.3 million shots have been administered in the state. Some 61.2% of New Yorkers age 18 and older have received at least one shot, and 51% are fully vaccinated.

Curran, meanwhile, is introducing legislation to crack down on people who use, sell or purchase fake vaccination cards, she said Friday in a statement.

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With Steve Langford