New York Governor Kathy Hochul has announced that, effective December 13, 2021, masks will be required to be worn in all indoor public places in New York State unless the business or venue requires proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 as a condition of entry.  The measure will remain in effect until January 15, 2022, after which time the State will re-evaluate based on current conditions.

As set forth in the New York Department of Health Commissioner’s Determination on Indoor Masking effectuating this requirement, “indoor public place” means “any indoor space that is not a private residence.”  In frequently asked questions guidance on the new requirements, it elaborates that the definition includes indoor entertainment venues, concert halls, indoor sports stadiums, recreational spaces, restaurants, office buildings, shopping centers, and common areas in residential buildings.

For businesses and venues that do not adopt a full-course vaccination requirement for entry, the Commissioner’s Determination states that “all persons, over age two and able to medically tolerate a face covering/mask, regardless of vaccination status, shall wear an appropriate face covering/mask while in any indoor public place.”  In short, this means that in office-based and other covered businesses that do not require vaccination as a condition of entry, all individuals must wear face coverings at all times except when eating, drinking, or alone in an enclosed room.  It is noted that certain businesses and settings are subject to more onerous masking requirements under the Commissioner’s Determination, including healthcare settings, adult care facilities, homeless shelters, schools, and public transportation conveyances.

For businesses and venues that include food and/or drinks, “patrons can remove their masks only while they are actively eating or drinking, at which time appropriate social distancing measures, proper air ventilation, and filtration methods are highly recommended.”  Masks must be worn at all other times “outside of physical eating or drinking.”

With regard to businesses and venues opting for a vaccination requirement for entry, the Governor’s announcement provides that, “in accordance with CDC’s definition of fully vaccinated, full-course vaccination is defined as 14 days past an individual’s last vaccination dose in their initial vaccine series (14 days past the second shot of a two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine; 14 days past the one-shot Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine).”  As such, two doses of a two-shot vaccine would be required, except that children ages 5–11 need only show proof of having had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccination for purposes of satisfying an establishment’s vaccination requirement.  World Health Organization-approved vaccines will also be acceptable for purposes of compliance.  Businesses and venues that implement a proof of vaccination requirement can accept the New York State Excelsior Pass, Excelsior Pass Plus, SMART Health Cards issued outside of New York State, or a CDC Vaccination Card as acceptable proof.  Children ages 2–5 who are presently ineligible for vaccination must wear a proper-fitting mask.

The FAQ guidance makes clear that whether a mandatory vaccination or masking option is selected, “it must apply to all within the business/venue’s capacity, including staff, patrons, visitors, and guests” and that “[a] business and venue cannot do a ‘combination’ requirement.”

As to enforcement, the announcement states that “[a] violation of any provision of this measure is subject to all civil and criminal penalties, including a maximum fine of $1,000 for each violation” and that “[l]ocal health departments are being asked to enforce these requirements.”

It is reminded that private employers in New York City will soon be subject to a mandatory vaccination requirement (with no masking or testing alternative) under a recent declaration by the mayor.  Further, indoor dining, indoor fitness, and indoor entertainment venues and performances in New York City must presently require proof of vaccination in accordance with the “Key to NYC” program (as recently updated).

We will continue to monitor and report on further developments with regard to this new requirement.