Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.
NEW YORK (AP) — Facing a winter surge in COVID-19 infections, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Friday that masks will be required in all indoor public places unless the businesses or venues implement a vaccine requirement.
Hochul said the decision to reinstitute a mask mandate was based on the rising number of cases and hospitalizations, which have been especially pronounced in parts of upstate New York.
New York enacted a mask mandate at the beginning of the pandemic in April 2020 that lasted more than a year. The new mask mandate applies to both patrons and staff and will be in effect from Monday to Jan. 15, after which the state will reevaluate.
"We're entering a time of uncertainty and we could either plateau here or our cases could get out of control," Hochul warned at a public appearance in New York City.
New York joins several states with similar indoor mask mandates, including Washington, Oregon, Illinois, New Mexico, Nevada and Hawaii.
The news was welcome at the Lake Placid Christmas Company, a shop on Main Street in the tourist-friendly Adirondack village.
"Our employees all wear masks, but we stopped requiring all of our customers to wear masks because it was too hard to enforce," said manager Scott Delahant. "Quite frankly, I got sick of arguing with people."
He said many shoppers browse barefaced, despite a sign on the door encouraging mask wearing and a basket of free disposable masks.
The state recorded more than 68,000 positive tests for the virus in the seven-day period that ended Wednesday. That's the most in any seven-day stretch since the start of February. The surge is especially pronounced in some areas of upstate New York, which has accounted for nearly three-fourths of confirmed COVID-19 deaths in hospitals since August. Thirty-two upstate hospitals had to suspend performing nonessential elective surgeries starting Thursday because of capacity issues.
"We are heading upward in a direction that I no longer find sustainable," Hochul said.
Hochul announced the mask mandate at a social service agency in on the west side of Manhattan, where most people already wear masks. New York City requires vaccinations for indoor restaurant dining, entertainment and gyms, so those vaccine-requiring venues will be unaffected by the new rule.
Several upstate New York counties have recently enacted mask mandates as well, including Erie County, which includes Buffalo.
Though supported by many, mask mandates also have become a hot-button issue. Republican elected officials reacting to Hochul's announcement called it an unnecessary burden on businesses.
"This newest mask mandate is government overreach at its worst," said Republican Assemblyman Mike Lawler of suburban Rockland County. "Across New York state, we are getting shots in arms and our vaccination rate is one of the highest in the nation."
Hochul said violators could face civil and criminal penalties, including a maximum fine of $1,000. Local health departments will be in charge of enforcing the requirements.
Villeneuve reported from Albany, New York. Associated Press writer Michael Hill contributed from Albany.
Lead Image: Mary Altaffer/AP Images
Associated Press © 2021