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New York state, seeking to save its indoor mask mandate, moves to appeal court ruling

New York's mask mandate, imposed by Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), was overturned by a state judge Monday. (Angus Mordant/Bloomberg News)
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A New York state judge on Monday struck down an indoor mask mandate imposed by Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) that had been set to expire on Feb. 1.

The protocol was put in place last month as New York moved to curb a winter surge in coronavirus cases. But the mandate, which stipulated indoor mask-wearing in all public places unless the venues check for proof of vaccination, was unlawfully enacted by Health Commissioner Mary T. Bassett, New York Supreme Court Justice Thomas Rademaker found.

The judge said his decision was not intended to question the efficacy of face coverings, but he found the executive branch did not have the authority to unilaterally impose such a requirement.

“While the intentions of Commissioner Bassett and Governor Hochul appear to be well aimed squarely at doing what they believe is right to protect the citizens of New York State, they must take their case to the State Legislature,” he said.

The State Supreme Court is not New York’s top judicial body and Rademaker’s ruling can be appealed. Hochul said in a statement that she disagreed with the decision and that her office would pursue “every option” to reverse it.

“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.

New York’s Education Department said in a statement that an appeal by the Health Department “will result in an automatic stay that will unambiguously restore the mask rule until such time as an appellate court issues a further ruling.”

Until then, schools would still have to adhere to the mask mandate, the department said.

The state legislature had passed a bill last year, signed into law by then-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D), which limited the executive’s ability to put in place sweeping regulations during emergencies. That move came after Cuomo drew bipartisan ire for allegedly mishandling coronavirus outbreaks at nursing homes.

As omicron spreads, New York City is once again a center of the pandemic

The Monday ruling was welcomed by conservative lawmakers. Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), the No. 3 House Republican, said in a statement that it was “a win for … the freedom of all New Yorkers” and that the mandate was “crushing” small businesses and impeding the “development of our next generation.”

Hochul’s office did not immediately return a request for comment. New York logged a seven-day rolling average of 25,459 infections on Jan. 23, down from over 52,963 on Jan. 16, according to data tracked by The Washington Post.

Authorities in California and the District of Columbia also require face coverings to be worn in indoor public spaces in an effort to curb the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that people who are not “up to date” with their coronavirus vaccinations wear masks indoors.