UPDATE: The Tompkins County mask advisory is still in effect due to the high rate of community transmission. “We will continue to reassess community transmission and make changes to the mask advisory when sustained moderate transmission is observed,” Tompkins County Public Health Director Frank Kruppa said.

Moderate transmission is currently defined as fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 residents.

ITHACA, N.Y.—Gov. Kathy Hochul has ended the indoor mask mandate for New York State, effective Thursday, Feb. 10. Indoor masks are still required for some specific places and locations, including schools.

In her own words during a press conference on Wednesday morning, Hochul said she will now “let counties, cities and businesses make their own decisions for what they want to do,” with the exception of the congregate settings she outlined, where mask mandates are still in effect.

The decision was based on a variety of statistics that show the pandemic is once again decreasing in New York State. It was re-enacted in December amid a boom of Omicron cases around New York, including at Cornell University. The mask advisory in Tompkins County is expected to continue for the time being, as the county is still in a “high transmission rate” area by the CDC’s metrics.

Statewide mask requirements will remain for certain places, Hochul said, including schools, for the time being—but she hinted that the in-school mandate could end in early March, but did not commit definitively. Masks are still required for: healthcare facilities, state-regulated adult care facilities, correctional facilities, schools and childcare centers, homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters and transportation centers (because some of those are under federal jurisdiction).

“This pandemic is not over, that is why we’re still going to maintain protections for places where people are concentrated or in vulnerable populations,” Hochul said.

Despite fearmongering that the mask mandates would remain in place for the rest of time as part of a medical tyranny campaign, the announcement follows similar decisions announced this week by governors in Delaware and New Jersey, where case numbers are also falling.

She then dove into why masks are still required in schools, and how it was initially done so that kids could be in classrooms instead of being home for virtual learning. A vocal contingent of parents have been angry about masks, but around Tompkins County they have largely not been a very prominent issue, with some exceptions.

She outlined a plan to have test kits in the hands of parents in the next few weeks, seeming to indicate that after Spring Break could be a time to roll back mask mandates in schools.

“Tremendous progress after two long years […] Because New Yorkers and businesses stepped up and did the right thing,” Hochul said of the falling COVID prevalence around New York. “We’re not done, but we’re approaching a new phase in this pandemic.”

Hochul said that people should still wear masks if it makes them feel safer, but that the statewide requirement will no longer be in effect.

Hochul said she had consulted with Dr. Anthony Fauci on the decision, and had paid particular attention to the number of people hospitalized, the severity of the people hospitalized with those cases, and more. She struck a tone of cautious optimism, trying to balance the good news of declining COVID-19 infections while acknowledging that people are still suffering with the illness in New York.

“Omicron is not considered as severe, but there are still people lying in hospital beds because of Omicron,” Hochul said.

Meanwhile, the Tompkins County Health Department, considering the mask advisory is still in place, has 250,000 free KN95 masks available for distribution.

The Tompkins County Health Department is sharing an update on KN95 Masks and COVID-19 self-tests that are being distributed throughout the community, as well as sharing guidance on when and how to properly use these items.

“Due to their tight fit around the face, these masks provide better protection than cloth or surgical masks and are recommended to be worn when you are indoors around others, especially if you are around people who are ill, who may not be vaccinated against COVID-19, or with those who are at higher risk of severe illness,” the health department said in their announcement. “KN95 masks are also recommended to be worn by immunocompromised individuals and seniors who are at higher risk of severe illness from the virus.”

Here is the full list of organizations and governments receiving masks for distribution:

Various municipalities:

  • Town of Enfield
  • Town of Lansing
  • Town of Groton
  • Village of Groton
  • Village of Freeville
  • Village of Cayuga Heights (masks only)

Tompkins County Departments (masks only):

  • Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Department of Social Services
  • Tompkins County Mental Health
  • Office for the Aging
  • Veterans Services
  • Workforce New York

Libraries (masks and tests):

  • Tompkins County Public Library, Ithaca
  • Southworth Library, Dryden
  • Lansing Public Library
  • Ulysses Philomathic Library, Trumansburg
  • Newfield Public Library
  • Groton Public Library

Food Distribution Programs:

  • No Mas Lagrimas, Ithaca
  • Loaves and Fishes, Ithaca (test kits only)
  • Additional food pantries supported by the Food Bank of the Southern Tier (test kits only)
  • Friendship Donation Network
  • Foodnet Meals on Wheels (masks only)

Non-Profit Community Programs (masks and tests):

  • Advocacy Center
  • Gadabout
  • Greater Ithaca Activities Center
  • Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services
  • St. John’s Community Services
  • Tompkins Community Action

Non-Profit Community Programs (masks only):

  • Alcohol & Drug Council
  • American Legion, Carrington-Fuller Post 800
  • American Legion, Post 221
  • Catholic Charities
  • Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services
  • Child Development Council
  • Civic Ensemble
  • Downtown Ithaca Alliance
  • Finger Lakes Independence Center
  • Golden Opportunity
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Ithaca Community Childcare Center
  • Ithaca Housing Authority
  • Khuba International
  • Mental Health Association
  • New Roots Charter School
  • Our Lord’s Temple COGIC
  • Saint James A.M.E. Zion Church
  • The History Center
  • The Learning Web
  • United Way of Tompkins County
  • Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 961

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Managing Editor at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com