Mayor Adams announcing updates to COVID-19 mask mandates in Times Square. Credit: www.NYC.gov

Q&A: Here’s what you need to know about NYC’s updated COVID-19 protocol

COVID-19 rules and restrictions in New York City are falling fast, in the wake of recent announcements by Mayor Eric Adams, Gov. Kathy Hochul and the chancellor of the City University of New York, in an effort to move forward with the city’s economic recovery.

“I’ve said time and time again that the numbers and science will guide us as we continue to recover and rebuild, and now New York City is back, and vaccinations are why we’re back,” said Adams on Friday at Times Square.  “New Yorkers should be getting out and enjoying our amazing city. The fight may not be over, but we’re clearly winning the war. We are open for business and New York City has its groove back.”

But New Yorkers are still likely to encounter requests for masking and proof of vaccination in some locations.  To avoid confusion and possible frustration, here are some answers to key questions about what’s now allowed:

Will I still need to show proof of vaccination when I go out to a restaurant?

Starting March 7, no – unless a restaurant chooses to require it. The Key to NYC rules that required restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues to ask for proof of vaccination has been suspended. But businesses, indoor cultural and sports venues can still choose to ask for proof of vaccination or masks for indoor facilities. 

Will I still need to wear a mask at school?

No. The city’s mask mandates in public schools for grades kindergarten through 12th grade will also be suspended on March 7. Other COVID-19 protocols will still be in place, including increased ventilation, daily screening and test kit distribution. 

If my child is in a grade below kindergarten, will they still need to wear a mask?

Yes. Children under the age of 5 will still be required to wear a mask. This is because children under the age of 5 are still ineligible for COVID-19 vaccinations. 

If I or a loved one is enrolled at one of the 24 CUNY campuses, are we still required to wear a mask?

Following Adams’ announcement Friday, CUNY Chancellor Matos Rodríguez told students, faculty and staff in an email that the public university would lift its mask requirement. He urged that although the CDC isn’t requiring masks in communities with low or medium risk, those who are unvaccinated or have exemption from vaccination should wear a mask in CUNY spaces.

Will CUNY students still participate in the mandatory random testing protocol?

Yes. The program will continue without any changes. Additionally, PCR testing will still be provided for all CUNY students, faculty and staff free of charge.

 

Will I still need a mask on the train? 

Yes – The MTA and the New Jersey Transit have not yet lifted their mask mandate, as federal law requires masks on all planes and trains throughout the country. 

Where else will I need a mask?

Masks will still be required on Broadway until April 30, healthcare facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes, correctional facilities, homeless shelters and businesses that choose to keep the mask requirement.

Will my employees still need to be vaccinated to work?

Employers still must require the COVID-19 vaccine unless the employee has reasonable accommodation from the employer, including authorization to work remotely.  All municipal workers will still be required to be vaccinated.

What does the new COVID-19 tracking system look like?

The mayor announced a new color-coded system, based on the CDC Community Burden Indicator, that will help New Yorkers understand COVID-19 related risk. The system will also help New Yorkers protect themselves adequately from the virus. There are four color indicators:

NYC COVID-Alert Level Indicator. Credit: www.NYC.gov
  • Green: Low Alert Level
      • This means there is a low spread of COVID-19 in your community. Still, city officials recommend staying up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, regular testing (especially if you have symptoms) and masks in public places where vaccine status is not known. As always, wash your hands and keep good hygiene to avoid getting sick.
  • Yellow: Medium Alert Level
      • This means that there is a medium spread of COVID-19 in your community. Additional precautions include avoiding crowded spaces, both indoor and outdoor, especially if you are at a higher risk, or will be in contact with those at a higher risk of getting COVID-19. Masks are recommended. Vaccine, mask and hygiene recommendations from the first level also apply.
    • Orange: High Alert Level
      • This means that there is a high spread of COVID-19 in your community and that the pressure on the NYC health care system is sizable. Avoid crowds and indoor gatherings. Increase the level of testing and require face masks in all public indoor settings throughout the city. Masks are recommended. Vaccine, mask and hygiene recommendations from the first level also apply.
  • Red: Very High Alert Level
    • This means that there is a high spread of COVID-19 in your community and that the pressure on the NYC health care system is overwhelming. Wear a mask in public settings and avoid non-essential activities, especially if crowded. Get tested as often as possible and increase ventilation in public spaces. Vaccine, mask and hygiene recommendations from the first level are stressed.

“Our new COVID Alert system gives New Yorkers a roadmap for how to reduce their own risk in the event that we see another surge or increase in transmission,” said city Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi. “COVID Alert will keep New Yorkers informed, including about actions to expect from city government.”

On Feb. 27, the governor announced she was dropping statewide mask requirements as of March 2.  Local governments then had to decide whether to follow suit in their jurisdictions.

“With more New Yorkers getting vaccinated, and the steady decline over the past several weeks in cases and hospitalizations from Omicron, we are now entering a new phase of the pandemic,” Hochul said. “This is a huge step forward for our kids and communities and I am grateful to the students, educators and parents for their dedication to keeping us all safe—we’ve reached this milestone because of your hard work.”

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