Gov. Kathy Hochul's mandate requires people to wear masks indoors, unless the location requires proof of vaccination. Credit: NY Governor's Office

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday extended for two more weeks a mandate requiring people to wear masks in indoor public places unless the location requires them to show proof of vaccination to enter.

The mandate covers restaurants, stores, gyms, theaters and other businesses.

As Long Island braced for a major snowstorm, Hochul, speaking in Melville, said she is continuing the mandate because, while COVID-19 indicators are improving amid the omicron surge, they still do not warrant lifting the regulation.

The mandate is now moved to Feb. 10, when Hochul will reassess and decide if it should be extended again. The state will review the measure every two weeks to decide on renewing, she said. It had been set to expire on Tuesday.

Suffolk and Nassau county officials have said they're not enforcing the mandate, and compliance has been mixed.

A leading medical expert on Long Island said Hochul was making the right move.

"I think it’s a great idea. I totally support it," said Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of public health and epidemiology for Northwell Health. "There’s no urgency to doing this. We’ve come a long way, and why lift it prematurely and regret it?"

Grocery store owner Stew Leonard Jr. said he, too, backed Hochul's action, given the pandemic’s widespread effects and rising number of cases.

"You can say whatever you want about a mask, but I don’t think they hurt," said Leonard, whose Norwalk, Connecticut-based chain has seven supermarkets, including two on Long Island. A few customers remove their masks after they are in the stores, but they comply when employees ask them to wear the face coverings, he said.

"I think what we have to do a better job at is … going up to customers [after they are in the stores] and asking them to put their mask on," he added.

Other chains, including Lidl, King Kullen and Shop & Stop, said they will follow the mandate.

Damianos Realty Group LLC, a commercial landlord in Suffolk, will continue requiring masks in the lobbies, elevators and other common areas of office properties, principal X. Cristofer Damianos said. But security personnel have been instructed to avoid confrontations with people who are belligerent when reminded that they need a mask, Damianos said.

He said a man visiting one of Damianos Realty’s tenants recently ignored a guard’s comments about needing a mask, argued with a passerby about masking and kicked an elevator wall.

"It was a $15,000 repair job," said Damianos, adding that his company is trying to recoup the cost of repairs in court. "There are some people out there that are very opinionated on this subject, and we don't want to put anybody at risk."

COVID-19 cases and positivity levels have declined from record levels fueled by the omicron variant, but remain at relatively high levels.

Long Island is seeing about 1,700 new daily cases a day, Hochul said, while New York State registered 13,592 on Thursday. That is compared to a statewide high of about 90,000 on Jan. 7.

"That is the trend we’ve been waiting for. It is arriving, and I could not be happier to report this news," Hochul said. The indoor mask mandate, she said, "has been a critical tool in driving those numbers down. They could be even more out of control."

The governor also noted that in the state, 171 people died on Thursday of causes linked to the virus — "a reminder to take this seriously until you are clearly out of the storm."

School masking still in court

The state's school indoor masking mandate, set to expire Feb. 21, is still the focus of a court battle. On Friday, attorneys were to submit their latest arguments to the court as the case continues. A decision is expected next week.

A state Supreme Court Judge in Nassau County on Monday ruled the mandate is illegal, arguing Hochul and the state health commissioner do not have the legal authority to impose it.

That led many school districts to declare Tuesday a mask-optional day, with some students attending without a mask for the first time in a year and a half.

But the state Appellate Court issued a "stay," or temporary suspension, of the decision, so by Wednesday the mandate was back in place.

The school mask rule remains in effect "despite the fact that there was a little blip, but we are back on track legally," Hochul said.

She said the state strongly disagreed with the lawsuit, filed on behalf of a group of parents on Long Island who don't want their children to wear masks in schools.

"We happen to think that the commissioner of health and the department of health have a responsibility to protect public health," she said. "That is why they do what they do, and we’re going to continue to defend that in cour."

She added that the appellate court "sided with us and let common sense prevail."

At least 16 school districts on Long Island have filed an amicus curiae brief to show their support for upholding the ruling striking down the mandate.

Chad J, LaVeglia, the attorney who filed the lawsuit against the state, said: "We are doing this for one reason, the children. Not just our children, but for all the children who suffer in silence, behind masks forced on their faces. The state has stolen parents' freedom to choose what they think is best."

With Tory N. Parrish and Sarina Trangle

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What to know

Gov. Kathy Hochul extended for two more weeks a mandate requiring people to wear masks in indoor public places unless the location requires them to show proof of vaccination to enter.

Some medical experts and business owners praised the extension as a smart move amid the record-breaking omicron surge.

Hochul said the state will reassess the mandate every two weeks to determine if it should be renewed or end.

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