Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Monday that New York State will follow the CDC guidelines on mask wearing starting Wednesday. Credit: NY Governor's Office

New York State will adopt the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for masks and social distancing for vaccinated people, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday.

The guidelines, unveiled last week, say fully vaccinated people no longer have to wear masks — except on public transportation, and in schools, homeless shelters, correctional facilities and health care facilities, among other settings. Private businesses are not required to accept the guidelines and can impose additional requirements, the governor added.

The state will adopt the guidelines effective Wednesday, a day when capacity limits for most businesses are set to be lifted.

What to know

  • Effective Wednesday, New York State is adopting CDC guidelines that say fully vaccinated people no longer have to wear masks except on public transportation, in schools and in health care facilities, among other settings.
  • Private businesses are not required to accept the guidelines and are able to impose additional requirements.
  • Businesses and health experts are divided on the wisdom of the state's move to adopt the guidance, with some viewing it as an incentive to drive up vaccine rates and others worrying that there are too many unanswered safety questions.

Cuomo made the announcement as the rate of vaccinations slows in New York. He said the state needs a far greater number of people to get the shots to kill the virus.

About half of New Yorkers are fully vaccinated, but medical experts said 70% to 90% is required to reach the "herd immunity" threshold where the virus cannot spread.

Cuomo also announced that venues including Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan will be holding events where most or all attendees will be required to be vaccinated.

A top infectious disease expert on Long Island said he hoped unvaccinated New Yorkers would be enticed to get the shots given the new rules.

"I hope this pulls some people off the fence and into the vaccinated camp," said Dr. Bruce Polsky, chairman of medicine at NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island. "Look at all you can do if you get vaccinated. I do believe many of the unvaccinated are open to it."

Fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks inside private businesses if the private business agrees to not mandate masks. Unvaccinated people must continue to do so. Social distancing must be maintained in settings where vaccinated and unvaccinated people mix, so there are still capacity limits.

If a business requires vaccination proof for entry or designates a section of a business for fully vaccinated people, either that entire business or that section requires no mask or distancing.

Polsky said the state's shift to follow CDC guidance would eliminate some confusion around mask-wearing rules.

"To have different guidance for different locales is confusing," he said. "That's why I'm not surprised."

Dr. Mark Jarrett, chief quality officer for Northwell Health, said he had "some concerns" about the guidance.

"I certainly understand the CDC's push to open things up," he said. But "we don’t have as much penetration of the vaccine as we would like. So while you can take your mask off if you are vaccinated, we clearly know that people who are unvaccinated are going to take advantage of the loosening of the rules."

Jarrett said the health community will be watching COVID-19 prevalence rates and hospital admission rates closely to see if there is any uptick in cases.

"I think that people should be cautious and watch and see what happens over the next month or two," he said. "And then we'll know if there's a real risk or not."

Sean Clouston, associate professor of public health at Stony Brook University, added: "I think the open question is are people going to understand this guidance and take it in the way that it’s intended … and it’s not clear that this is really going to bring over people who are vaccine hesitant."

Clouston said he is also concerned that vaccine rates are not anywhere near what is needed to reach the herd immunity threshold.

"It would be nice to hold off on decisions like this until the vaccine rates are higher," he said.

Businesses respond to the new guidance

Sweet & Savory Cafe in Baldwin has yet to reopen its indoor dining section, which has about 20 seats.

"We want to keep our staff safe and our regulars safe," owner Antoinette Burrows said. "I am more cautious about reopening as a result of the new mask rules, because there has to be a better process in place on how we go about making sure everyone is safe."

For example, Burrows said many people could say they're vaccinated, but aren't. "Are we asking for vaccination cards?" Burrows said.

Frank Camarano, whose family owns Evolve Fitness in East Meadow, added that it's unclear what gyms will be asked to do.

"If the governor says a vaccinated person can work out in a fitness facility without a mask on, I can't imagine a gym forcing members to wear a mask anyway," he said. "If they do, I'd imagine members would be looking elsewhere."

Blue Line Deli & Bagels in Huntington wrote in a tweet on Monday that its "employees will not be removing masks anytime soon. Regardless of what we are told is okay."

The deli posted that its staff is fully vaccinated. "Even still, we want to provide the safest environment possible for our guests," the eatery posted.

CVS Pharmacy on Monday said that effective immediately vaccinated customers will no longer be mandated to wear face coverings inside stores. Customers who are not fully vaccinated "are asked to continue" wearing masks, the chain said, adding that employees will continue to wear masks.

Costco has said that in locations where there is no state or local mask mandates, members and guests who are fully vaccinated can enter without a face mask or shield. The company said it will not require proof of vaccination. It will require face coverings in its pharmacy, optical and hearing aid sections.

"Costco continues to recommend that all members and guests, especially those who are at higher risk, wear a mask or shield," the company said.

Starbucks said that effective on Monday, face coverings would be optional for vaccinated customers. The coffee chain said its employees will be required to wear a mask during shifts.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran hailed the state's acceptance of the CDC guidance.

"There is no doubt that vaccines are paving the way back to normal life for our residents and business community," she said. "The governor's decision to adopt the CDC mask-wearing guidance today reflects that truth as Nassau continues to put lifesaving shots into arms."

Return to NYC cultural life as a vaccine incentive

On Monday, Cuomo announced at a news conference at Radio City Music Hall that the Knicks and Nets will have fully vaccinated sections at home playoff games, and that the New York City Marathon will return on Nov. 7 at 60% capacity, for a total of 33,000 runners.

He said Radio City Music Hall will host a 100% capacity, no-masks-required event on June 19 to close out the Tribeca Film Festival. It will be the first major public event in New York City marking a return to normal life before the pandemic — with the caveat that all attendees must be vaccinated.

James Dolan, owner of Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall and the Knicks, said: "Today is a game-changer … It’s a game-changer for entertainment, for sports, and for New York."

Cuomo said the Radio City event and others will serve as an incentive for people to get their COVID-19 shots.

COVID-19 indicators continued to drop in the state. The statewide daily positive level in test results from Sunday was 1.26%, while the seven-day average was 1.11%. That average on Long Island was 0.98%, the second day in a row it was below 1%.

The number of new confirmed cases was 79 in Nassau, 86 in Suffolk and 480 in New York City.

Statewide, 11 people died of COVID-19-related causes on Sunday, including one in Nassau.

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