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Mask-wearing update in NY, NJ and CT: What to know

ABC 7 New York logo ABC 7 New York 5/15/2021 WABC
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The CDC announced new mask guidance Thursday that allows for fully vaccinated individual to safely discard their masks in most cases, but it leaves it up to states, cities, and businesses to dictate their own rules.

So far, New York and New Jersey do not appear to be in a rush to make any changes in mask-wearing policies. But it's a different story in Connecticut.

The guidance still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons, and homeless shelters, but it is expected to help clear the way for reopening workplaces, schools, and other venues.

ALSO READ | EXPLAINER: What fully vaccinated people can, cannot do according to CDC's new mask guidelines

For a state like Connecticut, with its high vaccination rate and relatively few urban areas, lifting mask requirements for fully vaccinated is an easier decision.

It is more complicated for New York and New Jersey, where a mix of urban and rural, and high and low vaccination rates, is being taken into consideration.

Here's what you need to know:

New York

Governor Andrew Cuomo says he is reviewing the guidance, and no announcement has been made yet whether any statewide mask restrictions will be altered.

"In New York, we have always relied on the facts and the science to guide us throughout the worst of this pandemic and in our successful reopening," he said. "We have received the newly revised guidance from the CDC regarding mask wearing and social distancing for those with vaccinations and are reviewing them in consultation with (state Health Commissioner) Dr. Howard Zucker and our partners and health experts in surrounding states."

In a densely populated metropolis like New York City, officials have previously recommended continued outdoor mask wearing -- despite New York state not requiring outdoor mask wearing except in specific circumstances.

"This is a monumental day in the fight against COVID," Mayor Bill de Blasio said after the CDC announcement. "We are reviewing the guidance because masks will still be important for schools, public transportation, healthcare and congregate settings, and more. But the message is clear: vaccinations are the way to bring our city, our lives, back. Get vaccinated. It's safe, effective and millions of your neighbors have been vaccinated already. We have come so far -- now we will reach the finish line together."

New Jersey

Governor Phil Murphy said he is taking a wait-and-see approach, and at present, officials want everyone in New Jersey to continue wearing masks indoors.

"For the time being, we are asking folks, if you are indoors, in a public or business setting, we want you to wear a mask," Murphy said.

One reason for that is a low vaccination rate in minority communities. Officials say African Americans make up 14% of the population, but just 7% of shots have been administered in that community.

In Newark, just 31% of the population is fully vaccinated. Compare that to more affluent parts of the state, like Paramus, where 71% of the population has received both shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the Johnson & Johnson single shot.

Health officials have also raised concerns about lifting indoor mask requirements without proof of vaccination.

In a matter of weeks, Murphy said masks will no longer have to be worn inside.


Video: Mask-wearing update in NY, NJ: What to know (ABC 7 New York)

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"But we are not there yet," he said.

Murphy said masks are no longer necessary outside, and indoor personal activities can also be mask-free.

"If you are in a business or public setting, we are not there yet," he said. "We are frankly not there yet."

Murphy added that he is not trying to win a popularity contest, he is trying to save lives. Still, the new guidelines represent a light at the end of the tunnel, many experts say.

Republicans in state government, including Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. and state Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, called for the governor to "immediately follow the guidance from the leading public health agency in the nation."

Dr. Shereef Elnahal, president and CEO of Newark's University Hospital, lauded the announcement.

"I think it's great news and big news, the fact the CDC is endorsing the safety of not wearing masks for fully vaccinated individuals," Dr. Elnahal said. "That increases the value proposition, a whole pitch we can make to get vaccinated people who are not vaccinated."

Some health leaders in underserved communities also expressed concern that restrictions were being lifted too soon.

"You're still dealing with a situation where an overwhelming majority of the community is not fully vaccinated," Dr. Elnahal said. "To lift restrictions without vaccine verification in those areas, which are predominantly minority communities that have had a tough time with the pandemic, would be high risk."

Connecticut

After the CDC announcement, Governor Ned Lamont said people who are fully vaccinated will no longer have to wear masks indoors starting May 19.

"Indoor masking will still be required for the unvaccinated for a little bit longer," he said. "I think that's the right thing to do. A lot of our stores, restaurants, said it gives their customers comfort, makes it a little easier for us to be clear. Unvaccinated people indoors still must wear the masks."

Businesses can still require masks if they want.

"I think every store, business, restaurant may have their own rules that way," he said. "At this point, I think people are going to self attest. I hope we can count on them to do the right thing."

Outdoor masking is no longer required for anyone, vaccinated or unvaccinated.

"Unless you are in a very tight area, one of those particularly large events, where I would still recommend it, especially to those who are unvaccinated," Lamont said.

Asked about schools, Lamont said masks should continue to be worn during in person learning until more students are vaccinated.

ALSO READ | NYC's iconic Plaza Hotel reopening to guests after more than a year

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