Mass transit riders wear masks as they commute in the...

Mass transit riders wear masks as they commute in the financial district of lower Manhattan Tuesday. Credit: AP/John Minchillo

Yet another pandemic mandate has ended, this one after a federal judge in Florida ruled Monday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lacked authority to require masks on public transit nationwide. But masks are still required in some places and broadly recommended. Here are answers to the question of what's now required and what's not. 

Are there still some broad categories of places where masks are still mandated?

Yes, including prisons, jails, hospitals, nursing homes and homeless shelters. The government says that people there are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 infection and can be vectors for transmission due to being in close quarters. In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams earlier this month suspended plans to lift a mask mandate for children younger than 5.

He reasoned that this age group cannot be vaccinated and thus is at greater risk to infection than older children. Still, the overall rate of children being infected and hospitalized, of any age group, is quite low.

Where are masks not required anymore?

Gov. Kathy Hochul Tuesday said the New York State mask mandate on public transportation stands. However, several local agencies, including Islip's Long Island MacArthur airport and Suffolk’s county bus system, have said masks are optional.

App-hailing services like Lyft and Uber, Amtrak outside of New York stations, airports in New Jersey, and certain New Jersey mass transit systems have also dropped the mandate. The CDC recommendation of masking on mass transit remains.

Where in public transportation are masks still required?

The Nassau Inter-County Express (NICE) bus system is keeping them mandatory, as is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the Long Island Rail Road, the New York City subways and Metro-North Railroad. There was a federal mask mandate struck down by the court Monday that covered travel on airplanes and other public transportation. But states can still choose to impose their own masking mandates

Who should still wear a mask?

There are about 7 million American adults — 2.7% of the population — who self-report being immunocompromised due to conditions such as cancer, organ transplants and treatment for conditions for autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s. People with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to COVID-19 and its effects. So wearing an N95 or KN95 protects the wearer from getting sick, even if others aren’t. Masks “contain droplets and particles you breathe, cough, or sneeze out,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More broadly, John Swartzberg, a University of California at Berkeley professor of infectious diseases, told The Washington Post that anyone who is concerned about contracting COVID-19 should mask up on a flight or other enclosed space, even if the rules don’t mandate it.

Are masks still effective if others aren’t wearing them?

Yes. University of Washington biologist Carl Bergstrom told The Associated Press that masks protect the wearer by reducing the number of particles inhaled and also protect those who aren’t masked by limiting what the wearer exhales.

How much do various masks protect me against COVID-19 infection?

A study published in February in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that people who reported always wearing a mask in indoor public settings had 56% lower odds with a cloth mask, 66% lower with a surgical mask and 83% with a respirator mask like an N95 or KN95. But that study was done between February and December 2021, before the full surge of the more-infectious omicron variant.

What’s the best mask to wear if I want to?

The gold standard of masking is the N95 and KN95, named for the percent of non-oil particulates the mask filters out. Disposable surgical masks are less effective but still provide some protection against COVID-19 transmission. Least effective are homemade face coverings made of cloth.

What does the CDC recommend?

For Nassau County, the COVID-19 community level is medium, which triggers this advice: “If you are at high risk for severe illness, talk to your health care provider about whether you need to wear a mask and take other precautions.” For Suffolk, the level is low, and the recommendation is only to keep up to date with vaccines and get tested if you have symptoms. These also apply to Nassau, but the level being at medium carries with it the additional recommendation for those who are at extra risk for disease.

The CDC’s community level, which can be low, medium or high, is based on hospital bed use, admissions and the number of new cases.

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