New York City health officials downgraded the five boroughs' COVID risk level to medium on Tuesday, just more than a month after it escalated the status to high as a fifth pandemic wave fueled by the most contagious variants yet gripped America.
The medium risk level means indoor masking is recommended when around others whose vaccination status isn't known but it isn't accompanied by any more stringent COVID protocol. The change had been expected for the last week and a half, since the city's top doctor assured New Yorkers in a lengthy Twitter thread that the latest peak had passed and the mayor followed up by lifting the controversial toddler mask rule.
"Day after day, New Yorkers are stepping up and doing their part, and because of our collective efforts we are winning the fight against COVID-19," Mayor Eric Adams and NYC Department of Health & Hygiene Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said in a joint statement announcing the transition. "This surge has taught us a lot about how the virus is currently behaving, and how to prepare for the coming weeks and months."
"Testing, vaccinations, treatments, and masking have been vital tools to keep people alive and out of the hospital," they said. "But we know there remains no greater defense against this virus than vaccination, which is why we’re pleased that young children are now eligible for the protection they deserve, and can’t wait to begin under-5 vaccination tomorrow."
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The city uses CDC guidance to inform its COVID alert level decisions and though the federal health agency downgraded all five New York City counties to medium three weeks ago, other reporting factors -- like the CDC's county-level assessment vs. a citywide view locally, and data flow -- may contribute to the timing differences.
Whatever the case, the agreement is clear now: New York City is no longer a hot zone for COVID spread. Most of the rest of the Empire State appears out of that high-risk area. Just two of the state's 62 counties are now considered high risk for community COVID spread by the CDC -- and both happen to be on Long Island.
Health officials in Nassau and Suffolk counties, though, expect a decline in the rolling new case average in short order based on the trends elsewhere across the state.
Further evidence of the improving situation in New York City: Broadway patrons can ditch face masks starting next month as the latest COVID wave continues to retreat, the national trade association representing all 41 theaters said Tuesday.
The Broadway League said in a statement that all owners and operators along The Great White Way would transition to a "mask optional" policy beginning July 1. Wearing masks remains a strong recommendation regardless of vaccination status.
Mask mandates for Broadway were most recently extended through June, though Broadway League President Charlotte St. Martin said the rule's end appeared near.
"Millions of people enjoyed the unique magic of Broadway by watching the 75th Tony Award® Ceremony recently. Millions more have experienced Broadway LIVE in theatres in New York City and throughout the U.S., since we reopened last fall," St. Martin said. "We’re thrilled to welcome even more of our passionate fans back to Broadway in the exciting 22-23 season that has just begun."
Mask protocols for August and beyond will be reassessed monthly. Expect an update regarding August to come in July, St. Martin said.
As for mass transit and the MTA, which is run jointly by the state and city, Gov. Kathy Hochul said when asked about the matter recently that the policy was being reviewed and state officials would like to change it soon.
The Democratic governor has in the past held her plans close to the vest until decision time is imminent, but sources familiar with her thinking say they think masks will be made optional soon.