‘Mask or Vax’ Rule Lifted, but That Doesn’t Mean No Masks

Gov. Kathy Hochul said the indoor mask mandate for businesses would expire today. Other states loosened pandemic rules, deepening confusion about what is and is not required.

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Good morning. It’s Thursday. We’ll take a closer look at Gov. Kathy Hochul’s decision to end New York State’s indoor masking rules. We’ll also look at a restaurant where the preferred way to make a reservation is not by phone or with an app, but on Instagram.

Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters

Gov. Kathy Hochul made it official — the statewide mask-or-vaccinate mandate will not be renewed. Calling it “an emergency, temporary measure” imposed in December, when the Omicron variant was driving case counts to new peaks, she declared that “numbers are coming down, and it is time to adapt.”

Massachusetts, Illinois and Rhode Island had all moved to ease coronavirus rules within hours of Hochul’s announcement on Wednesday. The separate announcements were a reminder of the patchwork nature of the response to the pandemic.

They also prompted concern among some public health officials that restrictions are being dropped in an ill-advised rush toward normalcy when the coronavirus is still circulating widely. Nationally, the daily average on Tuesday was 240,540 reported new cases, down 63 percent from two weeks ago. In New York State, the daily average on Tuesday was 6,817 cases, down 70 percent from two weeks ago.

And the different decisions compounded the uncertainty about what people can and cannot do.

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New York City continues to require masks in some places. Where?

Masks are mandatory while riding public transportation, including taxis and car services. (And federal rules continue to require masks in airports, train stations and other transport hubs, at least until March 18.)

Masks also remain a must at a school or a child-care center; in a “health care setting,” such as a doctor’s office, a hospital or a clinic; and in group residential facilities like nursing homes and homeless shelters.

Why? Because Hochul’s decision did not supersede virus restrictions enacted by local governments, including New York City’s requirement to show proof of vaccination to eat in restaurants, exercise in a gym or watch a movie at a theater.

That means that stores and theaters can still direct you to mask up, and some plan to. Broadway theaters will continue to require masks and proof of vaccination at least until April 30, according to Charlotte St. Martin, the president of the Broadway League, a trade association whose 700-plus members include theater owners and producers.

Will restaurants in New York City still ask for proof of vaccination?

Yes. A policy called “Key to NYC” has required that restaurants check customers’ proofs of vaccination since last summer unless the restaurants provide food only for takeout or delivery. Mayor Eric Adams renewed “Key to NYC” on Tuesday, according to a City Hall spokesman.

“Key to NYC” applies to everything from aquariums to zoos, as well as commercial event spaces, hotel meeting rooms and indoor stadiums, among other places.

Under “Key to NYC,” masks can come off if the owners or operators of such places allow it. But in practice, many cultural institutions require masks in addition to proof of vaccination. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, for example, says visitors must wear their masks and must have had either two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. A spokesman for the Met — which is calling employees back to their offices three days a week, starting Monday — said that for now, it had no plan to change its policy for visitors.

Apartment buildings, which were covered by Hochul’s mandate, will have to decide whether to continue to require masks in common areas like lobbies, elevators and laundry rooms. The city does not have a requirement for mask wearing in apartment buildings.

So what is new?

You don’t have to wear your mask in stores if the owners say you don’t have to (and you are fully vaccinated). The same goes for offices: If your office allows you to go mask-free part or all the time, you may.

This applies only if you have had your shots. If you are unvaccinated, you must still wear a mask whenever you are in a public space, according to city regulations. About 86 percent of adult New York City residents, and 76 percent of residents of all ages, are fully vaccinated.

Where are masks required?

Like New York City, New York State has had multiple mask mandates in place through much of the pandemic. Many of those rules remain in effect.

Masks are still required in health care and adult care facilities, nursing homes, in homeless shelters and in correctional facilities when social distancing is not possible. Masks are also still required in schools with students from pre-K to 12th grade.

Hochul said she was not ready to lift the school mask mandate, which is based on a regulation that is set to expire on Feb. 21. But she promised to make a decision by the first week in March, based on data. She also said that to help gauge infection levels, schools would distribute at-home test kits before the midwinter break.


There’s a chance of showers in the morning with temps approaching 50, followed by a partly sunny afternoon. The evening will clear up and cool down, with temps in the mid-30s.

alternate-side parking

In effect until Saturday (Lincoln’s Birthday).

Danny Ghitis for The New York Times

You can’t say that Ugly Baby, a Thai restaurant on Smith Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, was a cord-cutter that gave up its landline. It has a telephone. But it uses Instagram for most reservations.

My colleague Victoria Petersen, who wrote about restaurants that you can’t call, tells me that a lot of restaurants across the country have reservations about taking reservations the way Alexander Graham Bell intended them to. They have dropped phone reservations, channeling their communication through emails, direct messages and reservation apps, sometimes frustrating diners who are technology-averse.

But Ugly Baby, one of our critic Pete Wells’s 10 best restaurants in 2017, never bothered with email or apps. Nor has it ever posted anything on its website or claimed its Yelp page. It has relied on Instagram, which Sirichai Sreparplarn, a co-owner who is the chef, said makes life easier for the staff. He said it also keeps things low-key.

“We just want to be a hole-in-the-wall restaurant,” he said. He also said websites were not for 2022, while Instagram lets Ugly Baby interact with customers faster and with more information. “We can do it really quickly,” he said.

When restaurants reopened after the pandemic shutdown, Ugly Baby began using Instagram to take preorders. Customers who reserved a table ordered their meals at the same time, Sreparplarn said. This reduced the interactions between servers and customers and increased the sense that dining out was safe. It also made it easier for Sreparplarn to calculate what ingredients he needed to buy in the morning and when the dishes needed to be ready in the evening.

  • Brooklyn-based artist Oscar yi Hou has been announced as the next recipient of the UOVO Prize awarded by The Brooklyn Museum, The Brooklyn Eagle reports.

  • The New York Post reports on an attempted kidnapping of a Lyft customer in Brooklyn, now under investigation by the ride-share company after the story went viral on Instagram.

  • Two new poems will grace your morning subway commute, Hyperallergic reports.


Dear Diary:

It was late, and I was headed home on the A train to my new roommates at West 172 Street. I had just moved to New York for an unpaid internship that I worked at by day while supporting myself with a waitressing job at night.

I had just finished my first shift at the restaurant. The owner had unexpectedly announced at the end of the night that I wasn’t entitled to my tips for the first few days since, despite my having years of experience, I was “in training.”

I was feeling tired and frustrated as the train rumbled north through the unfamiliar city. To my embarrassment, tears began to warm my eyes, and I looked down in hopes of escaping notice.

“Honey, it’ll be all right,” I heard a woman’s soothing voice say from across the car.

She slid into the empty seat next to me with a comforting smile.

Human kindness in an anonymous city, I thought to myself.

“I know just what you need,” the woman said.

She reached into a well-crinkled plastic bag and pulled out a leopard-print bra and matching thong.

“Would you like to buy some lingerie?”

I declined. Things still turned out just fine.

— Jennifer Egsgard

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Melissa Guerrero, Geordon Wollner, Olivia Parker, Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Otterman, Matt Stevens and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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