New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio strongly encouraged vaccinated people to wear masks indoors but stopped short of reissuing a mask mandate on Monday in what he said was an attempt to focus primarily on vaccinations.
"Everything we're doing is based on data and science, but it's also based on strategy," de Blasio said. "The overwhelming strategic thrust is vaccination, so we thought the right mix was to heavily focus on vaccination, continue to climb the ladder with more and more vaccine requirements in place, and to give a very clear message to all New Yorkers strongly recommending mask usage regardless of vaccination status. But we thought that was the right balance."
The decision not to reissue an indoor mask mandate comes a week after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance that fully vaccinated people should wear masks indoors when in areas of "substantial" or "high" Covid-19 transmission. All five boroughs in NYC are in areas of "substantial" or "high" transmission, a metric based on case rates and positivity rates.
The mayor's decision contrasts with that of Washington DC, Los Angeles County and some other large metro areas that have reissued mask mandates amid the spread of the Delta variant of Covid-19. Already, New York City requires vaccinated people to wear masks on public transit, in hospitals and in schools.
De Blasio characterized the city's position as the same as the CDC's, as both are technically recommendations.
"First of all, recognize that the CDC recommended (masks) and we are recommending -- so we're tracking the exact language from the CDC, just as New Jersey and Connecticut have done. I think that's exactly where we need to be right now," de Blasio said.
Still, the decision reflects the waning influence of the CDC at this point in the pandemic, when protective vaccines are widely available for everyone 12 and older. The CDC's new mask guidance was based on an outbreak of the Delta variant among mostly vaccinated people in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in which five people were hospitalized and no one died.
The vaccines, though not 100% effective, provide substantial protection against severe illness and death. Less than 1% of fully vaccinated people have experienced a breakthrough infection, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of official state data, and CDC data shows just .004% of fully vaccinated people have been hospitalized due to Covid-19.
In recent weeks, the mayor has emphasized the importance of vaccinating as many people as possible and downplayed the use of masks, saying vaccines are "the whole ball game."
"Masks can be helpful, we are going to delineate to New Yorkers the best way to use masks, but they don't change the basic reality. Vaccination does," he told CNN's Poppy Harlow on Friday.
NYC to require new city employees be vaccinated
About 55% of all NYC residents are fully vaccinated, according to city data, a number higher than the total US rate of about 50%. The rate differs by borough, however: about two-thirds of Manhattan residents are fully vaccinated, while only 46% of Bronx residents can say the same.
The city has offered both carrots and sticks to encourage vaccinations. Any resident who gets a first dose of the vaccine at a city-run vaccination site will get $100. At the same time, all unvaccinated city employees will be required to start weekly testing on September 13.
De Blasio also announced Monday that every new employee for the city of New York will be required to prove they are vaccinated before they can begin work.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who has long sparred with de Blasio, said Monday morning that local governments should follow the CDC's mask guidance, adding that the state can't mandate they do so.
"It's up to the local governments," he said. "Local governments, you should adopt that CDC mask guidance. Learn a lesson from last year, don't deny reality."
In addition, he suggested private businesses institute vaccine requirements, and he announced the Metropolitan Transit Authority and Port Authority transit employees will soon be subject to a requirement that they get vaccinated or face weekly testing.
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