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LIers divided as mask mandate ends for indoor public places

At the C-Town Supermarket in Central Islip on Thursday, it was hard to know that New York State had dropped its requirement for masks or proof of vaccination in indoor public places.

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Nearly all the customers and staff were wearing face coverings.

But at the Costco in Holbrook, it was a mixed bag, with some customers donning masks and others going barefaced. The staff, though, was 100% masked.

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday announced the mandate, in place since mid-December, would be dropped Thursday as COVID-19 levels fall dramatically from record-breaking highs amid the omicron surge.

It meant that people could now enter stores, movie theaters, offices and gyms without masks.

The move was seen by some as a watershed moment in the two-year battle against the virus and a symbol of hope that the end was nearing. But others contended dropping the mandate was premature, and that the governor should have waited for COVID-19 levels to drop more and for the arrival of warm weather.

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While the mandate was never enforced on Long Island, many individual businesses chose to abide by it.

The first day of New York’s new reality of no required masks got off to an uncertain start in Nassau and Suffolk counties, with some people barely aware the restriction had changed and others saying they couldn’t get their masks off quickly enough.

“It’s good,” Santos Moran, 48, said in Spanish outside the C-Town. “Practically all of us have gotten COVID already and by the miracle of God we are still here.”

He himself was stricken with the virus, and spent two weeks in bed depleted by fevers, headaches and other ills.

But on Thursday, the Brentwood resident was out and about — selling coconut drinks and small mangos out of the back of his car as the weather warmed up.

Across the parking lot, Maria Franco was lamenting the decision by Hochul on Wednesday to drop the mandate. Franco thought it was too soon.

“It’s still not the moment to remove it because we have not reached 100% vaccination,” Franco said in Spanish. “You have to wait a little until” the number of cases stabilizes.

She is especially worried about her nine-year-old daughter if Hochul follows up by dropping the mask mandate in schools, where it remains in effect for the moment.

She noted that many children still are not vaccinated against COVID-19, and without masks would have no protection from the virus.

Outside the Costco in Holbrook, Krista Peacock, 50, of Oakdale, said she was glad the mandate was lifted but is taking a nuanced approach to how she personally faces the pandemic going forward.

She was surprised when she went inside and saw so many people still wearing a mask. She brought one with her, but then decided not to wear it in the store.

“I can finally decide for myself,” she said. “That’s a big game changer.”

But she is also playing it safe, she said, by “keeping my distance from people” even though she is vaccinated.

And she will probably continue to wear the mask in some circumstances, she said.

The latest COVID-19 figures released Thursday showed that the virus is greatly diminished since its peak in early January, but is still present in substantial numbers.

Long Island registered 762 new confirmed cases in test results Wednesday, and a seven-day average in positivity of 4.25%. Across the state, 72 people died on Wednesday of causes linked to the virus, including five fatalities in Nassau and three in Suffolk.

Check back for updates on this developing story.

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