New York Governor Kathy Hochul plans to end her state's mask mandate for most indoor public places on Wednesday, The New York Times reported, joining several states lifting face-covering rules in the weeks ahead as the latest COVID-19 surge loosens its grip.
The Democratic governor intends to let the mask mandate, which has been challenged in court, expire as scheduled rather than seeking to renew it, The Times reported on Tuesday, citing three individuals who the newspaper said were briefed on Hochul's decision.
The newspaper said it was unclear whether Hochul's administration would renew or drop a separate compulsory masking rule in New York public schools that is due to lapse in two weeks.
Representatives for the governor could not immediately be reached for comment by Reuters.
Hochul called the general mask mandate temporary when she first imposed it December 31 as the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus was driving a surge in COVID-19 caseloads that threatened to strain healthcare systems.
The move to let it drop comes after officials in several other Democratic-led states - New Jersey, California, Connecticut, Delaware and Oregon - announced on Monday that they were lifting mask mandates for schools and other public settings in the coming weeks.
In all those instances, authorities cited the receding Omicron-fueled wave of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths that began sweeping the United States during the year-end 2021 holiday season.
But US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told Reuters on Tuesday that with cases still high nationwide, "now is not the moment" to drop mask mandates in schools and other public places.
The relaxation of masking rules signals a growing inclination by political leaders to take pandemic-weary residents off an emergency footing and shift toward policies that treat the virus as part of everyday life.
A New York state judge struck down Hochul's mask mandate last month, ruling the governor had overstepped her authority to impose a rule that should have been passed by the state legislature. But an appeals court judge stayed that decision the following day, keeping the rule intact while the case remained under judicial review.