Covid-19 live: latest mandates, news on Omicron and vaccines

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Credit…Gabby Jones for The New York Times

A New York state judge ruled on Monday that the state’s mask mandate was illegally enacted and is now void, according to court documents.

Governor Kathy Hochul had renewed a rule requiring masks or proof of vaccination in all indoor public places in the state in December, amid a winter virus surge, and said it would last a month. The state health department then extended term two additional weeks, expiring February 1.

In his six-page ruling, state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Rademaker wrote that Ms. Hochul and state health officials lacked the authority to enact the mask mandate without permission. approval of state lawmakers, and that it violated the state constitution. Regardless of the “well-focused” intentions of state officials, such authority is “vested solely in the state legislature,” Judge Rademaker wrote.

State Attorney General Letitia James’ office filed a Notice of Intent to Appeal the decision Monday evening. Emily DeSantis, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said the department has advised its schools that as legal issues are resolved, “schools should continue to follow the mask rule.”

While the ruling overturns the statewide mandate for masks in schools and public places, it does not reverse local mandates. City hall officials, for example, said the decision had no immediate impact on schools in New York City since the city’s education department had its own masking policies in place before Mr. the state.

Ms Hochul said in a statement on Monday that her office strongly disagreed with the decision and would “pursue all options to reverse this immediately.”

“My responsibility as governor is to protect New Yorkers throughout this public health crisis, and these measures are helping to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and save lives,” she said.

Omicron’s surge has receded in New York, but it’s not over. An average of about 20,000 people in the state are now testing positive for the coronavirus each day, down sharply from the peak of 90,000 people testing positive on January 7. The positivity rate also halved, from over 22 percent to 10 percent.

But the number of daily cases in New York remains far higher than when the outbreak began in early December, and hospitals are still struggling to treat around 10,000 Covid patients statewide. Hospitalizations have started to decline but remain higher than at any time since May 2020. More than 130 people die from the virus each day across the state.

Judge Rademakerwho ran the conservative party line, was elected to the Supreme Court of Nassau County in 2019. The Supreme Court of New York is the highest trial court in the state, but not the court of last resort; the Court of Appeal is the highest court.

Following his decision, some school districts on Long Island began telling parents that masks were optional starting Tuesday morning.

“While it is certain that this decision will be subject to legal challenges, until it is otherwise challenged, the wearing of masks will be optional for students and staff at Massapequa schools starting Tuesday,” the Massapequa School District said on its website.

The Lindenhurst School District posted a similar message Monday night, saying it would work in accordance with the judge’s ruling.

“Unless otherwise specified, wearing masks will be optional for all students and staff,” the district posted on Facebook. “We are also aware that this decision will undoubtedly result in a state appeal, which may result in the reinstatement of the mask mandate until the court issues a new decision.”

The decision was applauded by some New York Republicans, including Representative Elise Stefanik, who said in a declaration that it was a “victory for small businesses, parents, students and the freedom of all New Yorkers”.

“Governor Hochul’s heavy-handed mandates were crushing New York small businesses that have already faced unprecedented challenges throughout the Covid-19 pandemic,” Ms. Stefanik said. “By imposing masks on children in our schools, these mandates have hindered the development of our next generation.”

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