No Word on New York Masking as COVID Cases Continue Nosedive

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Attention is focusing on Gov. Kathy Hochul to see when she will call for an end to the indoor mask mandate in schools as COVID-19 cases continue to fall rapidly.

On Monday morning, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced the mandate for school children will end on Mar. 7. That was followed by Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont’s tweet late Monday afternoon stating that the school mandate will end on Feb. 28 in his state.

New York’s indoor mask mandate for all public spaces went into effect on Dec. 13, nearly two weeks after the Omicron variant was first detected in the area and has been extended twice. It is set to expire on Thursday unless there is further action by Hochul before then.

There were no signals from Hochul’s office on Monday but Westchester County Executive George Latimer said the public is soon likely to see policy shifts, at least from the county’s perspective.

“I’m incredibly confident that over the next few weeks you’ll see us open up certain policies that are in concert with certain decisions being made by the governor and what’s happening around us,” Latimer said. “We will make intelligent decisions as the infection (rate) drops.”

The number of cases and the infection rate have been nosediving over the past three to four weeks throughout New York State and locally. On Sunday, there were 3,795 new cases statewide, the lowest number since Nov. 8, from just over 90,000 tests for a 4.2 percent infection rate. On Jan. 7, there were about 90,000 new cases in one day.

Statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations, reported at 5,069 on Sunday, have fallen by more than half in a little less than a month. There were 90 new COVID-related deaths statewide, which is just over half of what it was during the January peak.

“The decline in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are cause for celebration and hope, but not complacency,” Hochul said in a Monday statement. “There is still plenty of progress that can be made to ensure we stop the spread and keep our businesses and schools open. We know the tools that work; please get vaccinated if you haven’t yet, and get boosted once you’re eligible.”

In Westchester, the latest numbers were similarly strong. On Sunday there were 107 new COVID-19 cases from 2,853 tests, good for a 3.8 positivity rate, according to the state tracker.

Latimer said that active cases, which peaked about four weeks ago at more than 36,000, have now seen a roughly 90 percent drop to 3,257 as of Saturday.

COVID hospitalizations now stand at 237 in Westchester, after reaching an Omicron variant peak of 677 on Jan. 12.

Even deaths, which are a lagging indicator are slowing significantly. In the first six days of February, there have been three virus-related fatalities in Westchester, compared to 200 in January and 60 in December, Latimer said.

“It is now multiple weeks in the making that we’ve seen a decline in the number of active cases and in the lesser number of hospitalizations,” he said.

On Sunday, Putnam County had 15 new cases from 309 tests. The seven-county Mid Hudson region saw positive cases returned at a 4 percent clip.

Despite the highly encouraging recent outcomes, Latimer said he anticipates that the County Center in White Plains will continue to be made available for vaccinations and PCR testing into the second quarter of the year. Public health officials need to have some certainty that there isn’t going to be yet another wave fueled by a new variant, he said.

“If we knew for sure that Omicron was the last variant that could juice the number of cases, then I could put a date specific and say, ‘Okay, we can shut it down,’” Latimer said.

For now, the schedule for vaccinations and testing at the White Plains facility will remain the same. Vaccinations will be offered Wednesday through Friday and every other Saturday by appointment only through the county’s website. PCR tests will continue to be offered Monday and Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday and Friday from 8 a.m. to noon and on Thursday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

A photo identification is required to receive vaccinations at the venue.

If vaccinations and tests are discontinued at the County Center by spring, it is possible the facility could be prepared to host events by later in the year after the 90-year-old building undergoes some interior refurbishment, Latimer said.

Last fall, he said the county will eventually be engaging the public to explore the future of the center.

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