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Our attorneys stay on top of changes in legislation, agency regulations, case law, and industry trends—then craft timely legal alerts to keep clients up to date on legal developments important to their business.

May 18, 2021

Mask On, Mask Off: New York State to Adopt CDC's Lifting of COVID-19 Restrictions on May 19, 2021

After over a year of social distancing, remote working, and wearing masks both indoors and outdoors, New Yorkers are finally beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. As active cases, death rates, and hospitalizations continue to decline, NYS Governor Cuomo announced New York State will adopt the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) new mask and social distancing guidelines for those who are fully vaccinated. New York State, along with other states in the tristate area, will lift many COVID-19 restrictions on Wednesday, May 19, 2021.

New York State’s adoption of looser COVID-19 restrictions takes place just a few days after the CDC issued new guidelines last week and simultaneously with the planned reopening of the state of New York, which Governor Cuomo first referenced in spring of this year. At the time, Governor Cuomo was hopeful for a full reopening—meaning allowing full capacity for restaurants and bars, stores, and outdoor arenas and stadiums—of the state before or around July 1, 2021. However, it looks like normalcy may return to New York earlier than planned.

Specifically in New York State, this new ruling will allow individuals who have been fully vaccinated to remove their masks and cease social distancing protocols, turning a new page for those ready to return to life as it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this new standard is not without its exceptions; even for those who have been fully vaccinated,1 masks are still required in more crowd-centered areas like public transit, nursing homes, correctional facilities, and health care centers. Students, teachers, and educational staff will also have to wait a bit longer to return to “normal,” as individuals are still required to wear masks in schools for the time being. Moreover, those who are immunocompromised or not vaccinated will still have to wear masks and continue social distancing. The new guidelines have not clarified whether masks are still required at outdoor events such as concerts or games or if gym-goers will also have to mask up when exercising indoors.

Governor Cuomo hopes this new mandate will encourage more New Yorkers to get vaccinated, stating, “The whole point of the CDC’s change, the whole point of our change, is to say to people, ‘There are benefits to being vaccinated.’”2

How Is This Being Addressed in Other Nearby States?

Connecticut Governor Lamont will also be lifting the majority of the remaining COVID-19-related restrictions, including capacity limits and social distancing rules for businesses such as bars, nightclubs, and large venues. Governor Lamont also ended the indoor mask mandate for people who are fully vaccinated; however, masks will still be required in schools for the remainder of the year.

In Massachusetts, on May 29, 2021, the state mask mandate will be lifted and fully vaccinated individuals will not need to wear face coverings indoors or outdoors, with few exceptions such as nursing homes, hospitals, and schools (similar to New York and Connecticut). Businesses will have the option of requiring masks. As a result of lifting these restrictions, Massachusetts’s State of Emergency will end on June 15.  

New York State’s restriction lifting comes as welcome relief to countless New Yorkers whose social and working lives were dramatically altered since Governor Cuomo declared the state disaster emergency on March 7, 2020. Since then, people around the state have had to adjust to a “new normal,” wearing masks both indoors and outdoors and keeping a safe distance from others in their community. Wednesday will undoubtedly mark the return to life as it was before the COVID-19 pandemic and many are hoping that it will usher in a turning point for the state and city of New York.

For those in the hotels, hospitality, and food service industry, proprietors are still in the best position to make decisions about their businesses and know how to keep staff and customers safe. Accordingly, whether to continue the mask requirement or simply allow vaccinated customers to enter establishments without masks is a business decision to be made on a case-by-case basis, as is whether to require mandatory vaccination policies for employees. Please mark your calendar for June 15, 2021, when Barclay Damon’s Hotels, Hospitality & Food Service Team will host a webinar on the newly eased masking restrictions and mandatory vaccination policies in the workplace. 

Barclay Damon’s attorneys are available to answer any questions you may have about how the CDC’s guidelines may impact you and your business and can assist you in tailoring your own policies and practices to meet your needs.

If you have any questions regarding the content of this alert, please contact Elizabeth Vulaj, associate, at evulaj@barclaydamon.com; Scott Rogoff, Hotels, Hospitality & Food Service Team leader, at srogoff@barclaydamon.com; Bob Heary, Labor & Employment Practice Area chair, at rheary@barclaydamon.com; or another member of the firm’s Hotels, Hospitality and Food Service Team or Labor & Employment Practice Area.  

We also have a specific team of Barclay Damon attorneys who are actively working on assessing regulatory, legislative, and other governmental updates related to COVID-19 and who are prepared to assist clients. Please contact Yvonne Hennessey, COVID-19 Response Team leader, at yhennessey@barclaydamon.com, or any member of the COVID-19 Response Team, at COVID-19ResponseTeam@barclaydamon.com.

1 Meaning, per the CDC, two weeks have passed since receiving a second jab of a two-dose vaccine such as Moderna or Pfizer, or two weeks after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

2 https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/coronavirus/anxious-nyers-await-cuomo-mask-decision-as-most-covid-restrictions-end-this-week/3058733/

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