Long Islanders are mixed  in their reactions to New York State dropping its requirement for masks or proof of vaccination in indoor public places. Newsday's Steve Langford reports.  Credit: Newsday / Reece T. Williams/Reece T. Williams

At the C-Town Supermarket in Central Islip on Thursday, it was hard to tell that New York State had dropped its requirement for masks or proof of vaccination in indoor public places.

Nearly all customers and staff wore face coverings.

At a Costco in Holbrook, it was more of a mixed bag, with some customers donning masks and others going barefaced. The staff, though, was 100% masked.

Gov. Kathy Hochul's announcement Wednesday to end the mandate meant an uncertain first maskless day in two months Thursday at markets and other over-the-counter businesses in Nassau and Suffolk.

While Hochul's decision lifted restrictions on stores, movie theaters, offices and gyms, it did little to ease lingering worries among some pandemic-wary Long Islanders — even those supporting an end to mandatory face coverings.

Asked his opinion outside the C-Town, Santos Moran, 48, told his own story about COVID-19, how the virus left him bedridden for two weeks with fevers, headaches and other ills. Feeling good again, the Brentwood resident spent part of Thursday selling coconut drinks and small mangos out of the back of his car.

As for ending the mask mandate?

"It’s good," Moran said in Spanish. "Practically all of us have gotten COVID already and by the miracle of God we are still here."

Lifting the mandate — in place since mid-December — came as COVID-19 levels have fallen dramatically from record-breaking highs amid the omicron surge.

The move was seen by some as a possible tipping point in the two-year battle against the virus, and also a symbol of hope that the pandemic's end was near. But for others, dropping the mandate was premature, contending that Hochul should have waited for COVID-19 levels to decline further and the arrival of warm weather.

While the mandate was never enforced on Long Island, many individual businesses chose to abide by it.

Some businesses in Farmingdale and Hempstead welcomed the mandate's end and the burden of enforcing it, but several managers and patrons said they would continue to wear face coverings indoors as a precaution.

At Herbert’s Fine Meats in Hempstead, Telson Almonte, 22, who works behind the counter, said the business left the masking decision up to customers.

"I think it’s fair. We got the vaccine and the booster shot and it’s fair to take the mask off," he said. "I think it should be open to choice. Some come without masks and other people want protection. You get used to it and it’s easy to adapt to all the change."

At Flux Coffee in Farmingdale, store manager Ryan Bartlett, 25, of West Babylon, along with the staff, wore masks, but he said they were glad to not have to police customers.

"It's hard to be optimistic because before we went back and forth. It’s nice to not tell people they have to wear it. We definitely struggled with it," he said. "Hopefully this leads to good things."

Paul Garcia, 42, who manages Nison's Shoe Repair on Main Street in Hempstead, was wearing a mask behind the counter and said he would continue to ask customers to mask up.

"I disagree with [lifting it]. We’re still suffering and even people who are vaccinated can contract the virus. I don’t think it’s a smart decision," Garcia said. "For the most part, I try not to be rude, but I remind customers and ask them to wear a mask."

DAILY POSITIVITY RATE

Nassau: 4.0%

Suffolk: 3.2%

Statewide: 3.62%   

7-DAY POSITIVITY RATE

Nassau: 4.4%

Suffolk: 4.1%

Statewide: 3.88%

Source: New York State Department of Health

Oakdale resident Krista Peacock said she agreed with lifting restrictions.

"I can finally decide for myself," Peacock, 50, said outside the Holbrook Costco. "That’s a big game-changer."

Even so, Peacock noted, she'll take a nuanced approach to how she faces the pandemic going forward, playing it safe, "keeping my distance from people."

And sometimes, continuing to wear a mask, she said.

Courtney Brunn, 23, of Farmingdale, was wearing her mask while working on her laptop inside Flux Coffee on Thursday. She said even with the new regulations, she felt better wearing it in public.

"Personally, I feel more comfortable and feel better continuing to patronize businesses who share how I feel," Brunn said.

The latest COVID-19 figures released Thursday showed that the virus is greatly diminished since its peak in early January, but still present in substantial numbers.

Long Island registered 762 new confirmed cases in test results Wednesday, and a seven-day average in positivity of 4.25%. Across the state, 72 people died Wednesday of causes linked to the virus, including five fatalities in Nassau and three in Suffolk.

A medical doctor and a labor attorney told a Newsday Live webinar on Thursday that the pandemic is not over and some precautions need to remain.

"COVID-19 is still around. It’s probably going to be around for years and we’re going to continue to get the variants," said Dr. Michele C. Reed, owner and medical director of MS Family Medicine Health Care in Garden City.

"We really still have to play it safe," she said during the "Masks Off: Lifting the Mandate" webinar.

Domenique Camacho Moran, a labor and employment attorney at Farrell Fritz in Uniondale, said businesses should not rush to end social distancing practices, or take down signs reminding people to stay home if they feel sick.

"Let’s not get rid of all the safety protocols that we implemented for COVID," she said.

Reed said she herself got COVID-19 in March 2020 when the pandemic first broke out, and is still suffering the effects. She plans to keep wearing a mask.

"For me this is not the end of the rainbow," she said.

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Where masks are still required on LI

  • State-regulated health care centers, adult care facilities and nursing homes
  • Correctional facilities
  • Schools and child care centers
  • Homeless shelters
  • Domestic violence shelters
  • Mass transportation — buses, trains, subways, along with stations and airports

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