Gov. Kathy Hochul ordered Friday that restaurants, stores and all other public indoor places in New York state must require customers and staff to wear masks or require proof of vaccination for entry.
The measure took effect Monday and lasts through Jan. 15, when it could be extended. It applies to everyone 2 years old and older.
This is a well-timed and measured response as COVID-19 cases rise and hospital capacity declines in New York. But we think Hochul should have done more.
The statewide seven-day average case rate has increased 43 percent since Thanksgiving, while hospitalizations have risen 29 percent with three weeks to go in the holiday season.
Why? By now, we all know the reason – the refusal of people to get vaccinated.
Their refusal has prolonged a pandemic that has claimed hundreds of thousands of American lives nearly a year after vaccines became available that would protect them and everyone around them.
We would have preferred that Hochul followed New York City’s example and required customers and staff to provide proof of vaccination for entry. And skip the alternative of masks.
We see this reflected in current infection rates in New York City and Long Island.
On some days, Long Island is producing nearly as many new cases of COVID-19 as New York City, even though the city has triple the population.
New York City had 3,111 new cases on Thursday. Suffolk tallied 1,172 and Nassau had 926, for a total of 2,098.
Long Island’s seven-day average for positivity increased slightly to 6.20 percent, while the level dropped slightly in New York City to 2.52 percent.
Across the state, 55 people died Thursday of causes linked to the virus, including three in Suffolk and one in Nassau.
There is no question that masks help to prevent the spread of COVID, just not as well as vaccines.
And let’s face it: Wearing masks is no fun. They interfere with our communications, fog up our glasses and, at least for some, make it more difficult to breathe.
So why burden people who have followed what health officials have repeatedly said is the only way out of the pandemic by getting vaccinated?
New York City’s requirement for proof of vaccination to gain entry to indoor events places responsibility where it belongs – on the unvaccinated.
But County Executive-elect Bruce Blakeman said even Hochul’s middle ground went too far and when he takes office on Jan. 1 he will not enforce the mandate.
“Nassau County is not in crisis and should not be painted with the same broad brush as the rest of the state,” Blakeman said in a statement. “Ninety-seven percent of adults in Nassau County have received at least their first dose of the vaccine, and Nassau hospitals have adequate capacity to handle existing demand.”
He added that he will use a “common-sense approach that acknowledges the facts, science and progress made by our residents while also protecting businesses and jobs from any further damage created by government mandates.”
It is true that Nassau County has the highest rate of adults who have received at least their first dose of a vaccine and a lower rate of infection than some areas of the state.
But the metric used by Blakeman and current County Executive Laura Curran – adults who have received at least their first dose – is misleading.
Unsaid is how many Nassau adults have received their second dose let alone a booster. And what percentage of children and teens have received their first or second doses.
Add in the uncertainty of the omicron variant and the picture in Nassau is far less rosy.
A large-scale analysis in South Africa released Tuesday shows that a two-dose Pfizer/BioNTech vaccination provides just 33 percent protection against infection by the omicron variant of the coronavirus although 70 percent protection against hospitalization.
A booster shot is believed to provide more than 95 percent protection.
One lesson every Nassau resident should have learned is how quickly the coronavirus can spread. Just how high do we let the river rise before we put up the sandbags?
Dr. David Battinelli, a senior vice president at Northwell Health, called Hochul’s move “an excellent first step,” acknowledging the possibility that unknown circumstances such as the spread of the omicron variant could require something more.
“You can still transmit it even if you’re vaccinated because it’s not 100 percent protection,” Battinelli said. “And to get close to 100 percent protection, you’re talking about a booster as well, and nobody’s going to mandate a booster yet.”
Actually, the NFL of all places sent a memo to all 32 teams Tuesday called for making booster shots mandatory for all nonplayers after 37 players tested positive in one day.
Nor do Nassau business leaders appear to support Blakeman’s concerns about the Nassau economy.
“COVID continues to be a threat to our economy, and many businesses have already implemented the governor’s new public health measures,” said Matthew Cohen, CEO of the Long Island Association. “The good news is our economy will stay open with no closures or shutdowns while we get rising infection rates under control.”
The Retail Council of New York State, an Albany-based trade association, also expressed support for Hochul’s mandate.
“We have said for months that the only way to achieve a full economic recovery is to get the virus under control,” the group said. “We hope every New Yorker will comply with the new order and treat retail employees with the respect that they deserve.”
Some business owners did oppose Hochul’s mandate but in doing so they seemed to highlight the need for tougher action.
Case in point is one restaurant owner who told Newsday that he was relieved that Hochul did not follow New York City’s example because his restaurant was “getting plenty of spillover customers coming from Queens to sidestep requirements. That’s kind of helped us maintain steady business over the last quarter.”
We understand the severe challenges faced by restaurant owners, who need all the help they can get. But think about that.
Unvaccinated people are flocking to dine in Nassau where the wait staff and fellow diners have no protection. Is there a less appetizing thought?
How many Nassau residents and how many restaurant workers are flocking to New York City where they don’t have to worry about getting infected? And how many Nassau residents are just staying home for fear of being infected?
Vincent Minutella, the owner of the Black Sheep Ale House in Mineola, apparently figured this out and will reinstitute a vaccination requirement it had started and stopped.
“It’s a much more enjoyable environment in the bar when people are free to go about their business without masks on,” Mintutella said.
Another Long Island restaurant owner who has required proof of vaccination said diners appreciate being in a room where everyone is vaccinated.
It is possible that barring the unvaccinated from dining in Nassau could hurt businesses that are already struggling.
But we know from New York’s City’s experience that it would also persuade some unvaccinated people to get the shot, save lives and help end the pandemic sooner – something that every business owner wants.
Requiring proof of vaccination for entry into public places would punish the right people – the unvaccinated.