Gov. Kathy Hochul announces Friday that masks will be required in all...

Gov. Kathy Hochul announces Friday that masks will be required in all indoor public places in the state unless the businesses or venues implement a vaccine requirement. Credit: AP/Mary Altaffer

It would have been great to have a holiday season full of gatherings and parties, one that was free of masks, illness and worry.

But far too many people remain unvaccinated, paving the way for spikes in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The Island is posting positivity rates in the 6% range, the highest since February. And with the introduction of a new variant, omicron, it looks like our celebrations will be tinged with concern once again.

With so much unknown about omicron, and the dominant delta strain still causing too much illness and death, there's a lot to be worried about heading into a time when people are crowding into shopping malls, theaters, restaurants, catering halls and homes.

Gov. Kathy Hochul had little choice when she issued a statewide mask mandate for indoor public locations that don't require vaccination. The mandate goes into effect Monday, and will last until Jan. 15, at which point state officials will reevaluate it. Over the next month, New Yorkers have the opportunity to reverse this frightening trend by getting vaccinated or boosted, wearing a mask and keeping distance where possible.

And business owners and others who preside over indoor establishments must do their part. Even those who do have signs requesting masks don't do much to enforce it, understandably, not wanting to put themselves and staff at risk of verbal and physical abuse from angry customers. Now Hochul's mandate provides some cover to businesses large and small to do so. And it could help boost local economic activity, as Long Islanders might be more willing to shop and dine locally if they know masks will be worn.

The mask mandate helps all of us, whether vaccinated or not. The vast majority of hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions on Long Island reportedly are among the unvaccinated. If anything, the mask requirement helps most those who are unvaccinated — often the same people who push back against those very mask mandates that are in place to save their lives. But those who are vaccinated benefit too, especially as breakthrough cases, particularly among the immunocompromised, continue.

Masks are protective and save lives. They're not an infringement on medical freedom or a hardship or a form of tyranny. Elected officials who espouse otherwise for political gain are failing their constituents.

Hochul's move is necessary and comes at the right time. Enforcement will be key. Nassau and Suffolk county officials will need to take convincing actions against those establishments that don't comply. In New York City, where such a mandate is already in place, the uptick in cases is noticeably smaller, so why not use the tools we have at this critical time to make us as safe as possible?

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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