New York Ends Covid-19 Mask Mandate for Subway, Buses

New Yorkers will no longer be required to wear masks on subways, buses and other mass transit, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Wednesday.

The Democratic governor said on Twitter that masks would be optional on public transportation but would still be required at state-regulated healthcare facilities and clinical settings.

“We are following the data & will continue to adjust our policies as necessary,” she wrote. “We are still in this together.”

Ms. Hochul said at a news briefing on Wednesday that New Yorkers should be respectful of people who choose to wear masks even though the mandate has lifted.

Reported Covid-19 cases in New York have trended downward since July while hospitalizations have remained relatively steady, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

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The Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 have been the dominant Covid strains in New York City since June, according to city data.

The move is part of a continued shift in the state’s policies, as the trajectory and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic change.

New York, an early center of the pandemic in the U.S., was one of the first states in March 2020 to shut down schools, bars and theaters. Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order in April 2020 requiring masks on public transit. Months later, he said that riders could be fined $50 for not wearing a mask.

The city’s buses and subway stations have masks available for riders. Still, many commuters haven’t been wearing masks onboard for a while as the pandemic persists and vaccines have helped mitigate the most severe effects of Covid-19.

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Ms. Hochul’s decision Wednesday comes a week after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized a retooled Covid-19 vaccine that targets the latest Omicron strains. The federal health authorities plan to recommend that people get booster shots once a year, including the updated one being rolled out now.

A federal judge in April struck down the Biden administration’s Covid-19 mask mandate for public transportation.

For more than a year, all U.S. travelers and commuters, including children at least 2 years old, were required to wear face coverings on nearly all forms of public transportation and inside transportation hubs, with limited disability exemptions. But the requirement became increasingly contentious, especially on airplanes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said wearing masks on public transit reduces the spread of the coronavirus. Some state and local mandates have remained in place, including in New York and Los Angeles, as highly transmissible Omicron variants circulated.