In the face of a steady climb in coronavirus cases, Mayor Bill de Blasio is resisting calls to reissue an indoor mask mandate, saying that doubling down on vaccination remains the best approach to fighting the recent rebound.
“Masks have value, unquestionably, but masks are not going at the root of the problem,” he said Tuesday, during his daily press briefing. “So we do not intend a mask mandate. We do intend to double down on vaccination.”
He and city health officials argued that a renewed focus on mask-wearing would undermine the ongoing effort to persuade people that vaccinations are the best defense. To date, 54% of New Yorkers are fully vaccinated, but parts of the city, particularly in Black and Orthodox neighborhoods, continue to see rates below 40%.
Questions over access and vaccine hesitancy among some New Yorkers, along with the more contagious Delta variant, have spurred concern among public health experts and other elected officials that the city needs to become more aggressive in its public health strategy. Mark Levine, the chair of the City Council’s health committee, has been among city lawmakers leading the push to reinstate the indoor mask mandate.
Cases are rising in NYC (up 2x+ in past 2 weeks), driven by delta.
Indoor mask use in NYC is falling—in delis, stores, subways, movie theaters etc.
We need to reverse this trend.
It’s time to renew the indoor mask mandate, including for those who are vax’d.
— Mark D. Levine (@MarkLevineNYC) July 17, 2021
The latest seven-day average of total cases is 582; a month ago, that number was under 200. Similarly, the average rate of positive tests– 1.72%–has doubled since the start of July.
Expressing his frustration at the resistance by some New Yorkers to receive the vaccine, de Blasio added: “Literally, we will come to your door for free in your home. What more do we have to do at this point? This is getting insane.”
At the same time, de Blasio and his officials have been reluctant to require vaccinations among essential worker populations like city workers and teachers. The mayor said he planned to announce new guidance later this week, but a spokesman for his office did not offer any details on whether it would pertain to masking or vaccination.
“Again, I don’t want to preempt an announcement of any specific thing that we’re working on. I want to just say we will this week be making additional announcements,” de Blasio said, “and it’s not a great phrase, but I’ll use it: we are deadly serious about getting people vaccinated.”
City officials have pointed out that caseloads and hospitalizations have significantly tailed off compared to the spring. Back in mid-April, there were nearly 200 people hospitalized with COVID-19. The level has now fallen to around 20.
But a return to indoor masking is already being implemented elsewhere. Los Angeles this week became the first major county in the country to order that all people wear masks in businesses and public spaces—only a month after the order was lifted. The case rate among Angelinos has tripled since Independence Day, and hospitalizations are now above 500.
Currently, New York City only requires masks for vaccinated people on public transit and inside schools, hospitals and congregate settings like homeless shelters. They can free the face in other scenarios. Unvaccinated New Yorkers are supposed to wear masks whenever they share an indoor space with strangers.
Dr. Denis Nash, an epidemiology professor at CUNY, said he did not understand why the mayor would take any effective tool off the table at this point. Many cities and settings–such as New York City public schools–are relying on a multilayered approach to protection; wherein vaccination is combined with masking, social distancing and other measures to provide protection.
‘There is no single strategy that will keep New Yorkers as safe as possible,” he said. “Any effective public health to our current COVID situation in NYC needs to be multifaceted and multipronged. That means focusing, in smart ways, on vaccinations and masking and social distancing. All at the same time.”