×

A guide to New York’s new rules on masks and distancing

People walk down a crowded sidewalk on Main Street, Lake Placid, in July 2020. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

ALBANY — New York eased its mask and social distancing mandates again Wednesday, but people shouldn’t be throwing their face coverings in the garbage just yet.

Masks are still required for everyone in many settings. Millions of unvaccinated New Yorkers still have to wear them in most public places. Private businesses can still set rules that exceed state requirements.

Here’s a look at where the state rules stand:

——

Where are masks still required for everyone in New York?

New York is following federal guidance recommending that masks still be worn by everyone, whether they are vaccinated or not, in elementary, middle and high schools, on public transit and in homeless shelters, jails, nursing homes and other health care settings.

——

I’m vaccinated! Where can i unmask in New York?

Other than the places listed above, people who are fully vaccinated no longer have to wear masks either indoors or outdoors in most settings, the state says, except when specifically required by “federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”

An individual is “fully vaccinated” two weeks after receiving the second dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine series, according to the CDC, or two weeks after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

——

I’m not fully vaccinated. Where must I mask up?

This is the largest category of New Yorkers. As of Monday, about 58% of all state residents were not fully vaccinated.

These folks must still must wear masks in most public settings. That includes both indoors — like in shops or at a workplace — or outdoors if they are unable to stay at least 6 feet (2 meters) away from other people.

There are exceptions, like when eating or drinking at a restaurant or for kids under age 2.

People who are not vaccinated also have to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test and wear a mask to attend large indoor events.

——

Are masks required in supermarkets, theaters and other businesses?

Individual businesses in New York can still mandate mask-wearing in their establishments, even for fully vaccinated people, if they wish. Or, they could require them only for the unvaccinated.

The state Department of Health still “strongly recommends” the use of masks indoors when the vaccination status of all the people present is unknown.

The governor said that it’s up to businesses and venues to decide how to check someone’s vaccination status, if they choose to do so.

“They can ask at the door. They can ask when you are seated at the table, or not,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday. “There is no mandatory compliance that the state is imposing on the private vendors.”

——

Can businesses open at full capacity in New York?

Sort of.

As of Wednesday, many businesses from gyms to retail stores can welcome crowds again, but only to the point where there is still room for 6 feet of social distancing in “areas where vaccination status of individuals is unknown and for patrons who do not present proof of full vaccination status.”

There are no limits for businesses or events that only admit people who are fully vaccinated.

It’s unclear how the state will enforce the new capacity rules.

Businesses can also open up a “separate, designated part” of their facility for vaccinated people who would not have to wear masks or social distance.

——

How can someone prove they’re vaccinated?

People can show their paper vaccination card or use the state’s smartphone app, Excelsior Pass.

Methods might wind up varying from business to business, and in many places this could work on the honor system instead of employees having to check every customer’s vaccination status.

New York released regulations Wednesday that allows an honor system for businesses like retail, food services and offices that don’t “congregate patrons.”

But businesses like arts and sports venues, catering halls and conventions have to require proof of vaccinations.

And venues have to ensure all attendees are vaccinated in order to increase up to full capacity and eliminate social distancing rules.

Sports games, for example, can set up sections where vaccinated people — and unvaccinated children under the age of 16 — can sit side-by-side and without masks.

Otherwise, the 6-foot social distancing rule and the indoor mask requirement applies for unvaccinated attendees and “people who have an unknown vaccination status.”

When Jim Dolan, CEO of Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corp, announced a plan this week to open Radio City Music Hall exclusively to fully vaccinated theatergoers, he acknowledged the details of how to verify vaccination status had yet to be worked out.

“That’s a really good question, I have no idea,” Dolan said Monday. “We will be working with the state, and we will figure out a way for it to happen.”