A New York State judge ruled on Monday that the state’s mask mandate had been enacted unlawfully and is now void, according to court documents.
In December, amid a winter virus surge, Gov. Kathy Hochul renewed a mask mandate at all indoor public places throughout the state — including in schools and nursing homes and on public transit — to last a month. The state Health Department then extended the mandate an additional two weeks, to expire on Feb. 1.
In his decision, State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Rademacher wrote that Ms. Hochul and state health officials lacked the authority to enact the mask mandate without the approval of state lawmakers. Regardless of the “well aimed” intentions of state officials, such authority is “entrusted solely to the State Legislature,” Justice Rademacher wrote.
The state attorney general’s office plans to appeal the ruling. And Emily DeSantis, a spokeswoman for the state Education Department, said the state Health Department would appeal, which would automatically restore the mask rule until an appellate court issues a ruling.
“Therefore, schools must continue to follow the mask rule,” she added.
While the ruling overturns the statewide mandate for masks in schools and public places, it does not reverse local mandates.
Ms. Hochul said in a statement on Monday that her office strongly disagreed with the ruling and would be “pursuing every option to reverse this immediately.”
“My responsibility as governor is to protect New Yorkers throughout this public health crisis, and these measures help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and save lives,” she said.
The ruling was applauded by some Republicans, including Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, who said in a statement on Monday that it was a “win for small businesses, parents, students, and the freedom of all New Yorkers.”
“Governor Hochul’s authoritarian mandates were crushing New York small businesses that already have faced unprecedented challenges throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ms. Stefanik said. “By forcing masks on the children in our schools, these mandates have impeded the development of our next generation.”
In New York, the Omicron surge has been receding, but it is not over. An average of about 20,000 people are now testing positive daily for Covid-19, down sharply from this surge’s peak of 90,000 people who tested positive on Jan. 7. The rate of positivity has also fallen, by half, from over 22 percent to 10 percent.
But New York’s daily cases remain far higher than at the start of the surge in early December, and hospitals are still straining to treat about 10,000 Covid patients statewide. Hospitalizations have begun declining but remain higher than at any point since May 2020. More than 130 people each day have been dying of the virus statewide.
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