What to Know
- NJ's governor says his state's indoor mask mandate will stay for a few weeks despite the CDC change while New York is still reviewing the guidance ahead of the biggest tri-state reopening push yet
- Vaccination rates have plunged across the board, and officials say they are still focusing efforts on those aged 16-40 while also working with pediatricians and schools to educate parents on shots for kids
- NY has rolled out a new suite of incentives -- free train rides, hot tickets and more -- to encourage the less motivated to get shots as the state reports a drop of 34% in vaccination rates over the last month alone
New Jersey's governor said Friday his state isn't yet ready to drop its indoor mask mandate for fully vaccinated people despite new guidance from the CDC, though he expects the Garden State could reach that point "within a matter of weeks."
Gov. Phil Murphy addressed the matter during a vaccine event in East Orange with Whoopi Goldberg. While he said the state isn't ready to ditch indoor masks for fully vaccinated folks yet, he did say those fully immunized "can do away with our masks" outdoors. Murphy had hedged on that when the CDC tweaked its guidance on outdoor face coverings for fully vaccinated people just about two weeks ago.
"Sooner than later, I would guess in a matter of weeks, we’ll get to the point where we can comfortably say, 'You know what? Inside no matter what you're OK," Murphy said Friday. "But I have to say at this moment in time we’re not there yet."
The governor also said fully vaccinated people needn't wear masks at personal indoor events like family birthday or graduation parties, but left that to individuals.
The latest guidance from the CDC on indoor masking, released Thursday, says people who are fully vaccinated don't need to wear face coverings except in certain situations. Those situations include crowded indoor spots like buses, planes, hospitals and other packed inside places -- kind of like the ones people might see in New York City or New Jersey every day as a matter of daily life.
How do the governors accommodate that? It may take some time to figure out.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has yet to announce a decision for New York as it relates to masks. Late Thursday, he issued a statement saying New York's top health officials and its partners in surrounding states were reviewing the CDC guidance on masks and social distancing for the vaccinated and would develop their own conclusion.
The governor gave no indication of which direction that review might lead. At this point, he has no planned press conferences on his public schedule for Friday. The state health department didn't immediately respond to a request for an update.
Cuomo's initial comments on the CDC indoor mask change were far different from his response when the agency laid out new recommendations about two weeks ago saying fully vaccinated people could ditch masks outside. He announced within a matter of hours after that change that New York would adopt the revised guidance.
At the time the new outdoor mask guidance dropped, New York City leaders expressed some concern, saying the density of the five boroughs presents some particular challenges. It wasn't clear how the city would address the change, nor was it clear, for example, how stores could be assured should the rule change.
CVS, which has more than 365 stores across New York state, says it is "evaluating our in-store mask policy based on the latest CDC guidance. The safety of our employees and customers will continue to guide our decision-making process."
Target issued a statement along the same lines, saying the company's mask and social distancing rules, along with other COVID safety measures, remain in effect across its store network while it reviews the CDC guidance and evaluates how to move forward in terms of the standards it should set for its staff and patrons.
However other nationwide stores, like Walmart and Costco, said Friday that customers who are fully vaccinated will not need to wear a mask in its stores and clubs, unless one is required by state or local laws. Walmart said employees can also skip a face mask starting Tuesday, if they are fully vaccinated and verify that with a "yes" or "no" during a daily health assessment.
Enforcement of mask mandates has been left to private businesses for months. If someone walks into a store, how do staff know that person is actually vaccinated and not just trying to avoid a mask? As full immunization rates rise, does it even matter? Should vaccinated people be concerned of any risk to them at all?
To the last point, top national health officials appear to believe the answer is a resounding "no" -- or the risk is so small, at least, that it shouldn't cause worry.
The head of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, did announce the changed guidance with the caveat that it could be rolled back should the situation warrant, but she says she feels confident in the agency's mask recommendations as they stand now.
As far as asking customers about if they've been vaccinated, some store owners just don't see that as an option.
"This is not a health facility, it's just a chocolate shop," said Jack Plat of Mondel Chocolates in Morningside Heights, where only one masked person is currently allowed in the store at a time. "It's not my place to ask them if they're vaccinated or not, I'm not going to ask them."
Many believe working on the honor system in terms of masks and vaccinations is not going to work, as those who haven't gotten the shot are unlikely to wear a mask anyway. For that reason, among others, many have said they will keep wearing their masks, at least for the near future.
Not sure how the process works? Check out our handy tri-state vaccine site finder and FAQs here
New York City and New Jersey Vaccine Providers
Click on each provider to find more information on scheduling appointments for the COVID-19 Vaccine.
Data: City of New York, State of New Jersey • Nina Lin / NBC
Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a statement on the new CDC guidance late Thursday in which he reiterated the importance of masking up in higher-risk settings. Like Cuomo, de Blasio said his health team was still reviewing the new guidance, too.
“This is a monumental day in the fight against COVID. We are reviewing the guidance because masks will still be important for schools, public transportation, healthcare and congregate settings and more," de Blasio said. "But the message is clear: vaccinations are the way to bring our city, our lives, back. Get vaccinated. It’s safe, effective and millions of your neighbors have been vaccinated already. We have come so far—now we will reach the finish line together."
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, whose state was the first in America to fully vaccinate more than half of its adult population, was the only of the three tri-state governors to say he will adopt the new CDC guidance on indoor masking. But not until next week.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
The indoor mask mandate change will take effect in the Constitution State starting Wednesday, May 19. That's the same day the governors of the three tri-states plan to lift nearly all remaining business restrictions in their biggest recovery push yet.
Both Cuomo and Murphy had planned to leave indoor mask and social distancing rules in place at that time, but both have also said they'd consider revising state guidelines on those protocols should the feds modify their recommendations.
It's possible they could tweak the guidance for less populated places while keeping stricter mask rules in denser spots like the five boroughs of New York City, which lagged the rest of the state in the reopening process over the last year by design.
While all businesses can reopen at 100% capacity next Wednesday in New York and New Jersey, the governors have said social distancing is still the rule in cases where there are non-vaccinated people inside. That minimum 6-foot distance essentially does put a capacity cap on spots like sporting venues and theaters.
Should that minimum change as the CDC has indicated it might (to 3 feet), Cuomo and Murphy would likely both adopt the change. In New York, Cuomo has worked with pro sports teams like the Yankees, Mets and Islanders to debut vaccinated-only fan sections, where social distancing isn't required and capacity can be higher.
Cuomo has said New York state will pilot reduced social distancing at indoor venues -- like Broadway theaters -- by June 19 to try to boost capacity as well. Previously, he announced Broadway would return at 100% capacity by mid-September.
Later on Friday, Murphy announced that New Jersey will look to end the COVID-19 public health emergency by mid-June. The measure has been in place since March 2020 and has been renewed every month since, but the governor said if legislation aimed at recovery and vaccination efforts is finalized ahead of the renewal date next month, then the order will be allowed to expire.
Even as the CDC eased its guidance, some federal mask rules remain in effect. The mandate still applies when within airports or on planes, over-the-road buses and commuter buses and rails, according to the TSA. The agency has previously said its mask mandates would remain in effect at least through mid-September.
The CDC issued its new guidance on indoor masks just two weeks after it revised its recommendations on outdoor mask-wearing for fully vaccinated people. Vaccination rates have stalled a bit nationally since then. They've also fallen in the tri-state area -- by about 34% over the course of the last month in New York alone.
To date, New York state has fully vaccinated 51% of its population age 18+, though the vast majority of those fully immunized are in the 55 and up class. The same trend holds for the city, where 47.8% of people age 18 and up report a completed series. In New Jersey, 42.6% of residents are fully vaccinated, though people age 16 to 29 account for just 12% of total doses administered in the state.
Nationally, 46.1% of U.S. adults age 18 and older are fully vaccinated, while 72.1% of those 65 and older can say the same -- a ratio that officials say has sent the most critical COVID metrics, hospitalizations and deaths, plunging across the board.
Vaccination rates for younger people pale in comparison to those for older Americans. CDC data shows people age 18-29 account for just 11.6% of full U.S. vaccinations, while the same can be said for just 1.1% of those younger than 18. The latter should see a fair boost in the coming weeks with the new Pfizer emergency-use expansion for kids ages 12 to 15.