On December 10, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) announced that any person entering an indoor public place in New York State must wear a face covering, unless the public place has a vaccine requirement. The announcement was in response to a winter surge in COVID cases statewide. Rather than issuing an executive order requiring masks, the New York State Department of Health Commissioner issued the requirement by way of a determination in an effort to stave off a legal challenge.
The new requirement took effect on Monday and will be in place until at least January 15, 2022, at which time it will be re-evaluated. The requirement supersedes an August 27 determination requiring face masks in health care settings, schools, and correctional facilities, and while on public transportation.
The New York State Department of Health has issued guidance for businesses and venues on the mask requirement and some industry-specific information.
The guidance defines “indoor public place” as
any indoor space that is not a private residence. This means businesses and venues New Yorkers typically frequent that are either publicly owned or owned by private business entities. This includes indoor entertainment venues, concert halls, indoor sports stadiums, recreational spaces, restaurants, office buildings, shopping centers, grocery stores, pharmacies, houses of worship and common areas in residential buildings.
The guidance applies to all office spaces. If the office does not require proof of vaccination as a condition of entry, everyone must wear masks at all times, regardless of vaccination status, except when eating, drinking, or alone in an enclosed room.
The guidance states that employers must still comply with the New York HERO Act and that the New York State Department of Health Commissioner’s Determination (linked above) is guidance related to face coverings that must be followed.
Most importantly, the guidance clarifies that a business or venue can implement a mandatory mask policy or a vaccination requirement. Whichever requirement is chosen, it must apply to all, including staff, patrons, visitors, and guests. In other words, a business/venue cannot do a “combination” requirement or “mix and match.”
Local health departments can issue $1,000 fines to a business or venue for each violation.
Businesses and venues can display posters communicating whether they require masks or proof of vaccination. The New York State Department of Health has a model Mask Mandate Poster for Businesses and Proof of Vaccination Poster for Businesses.