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New York lifts mask mandate

Show us your smile.

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Gov. Kathy Hochul’s lifting of the state’s indoor mask-or-vaccinate mandate as of Thursday rightly paved the way for residents to remove their masks when working in the office, going to the movies, or grocery shopping.

It’s an enormous step away from the constant drumbeat of pandemic urgency and, hopefully, toward achieving the normalcy we’ve all ached for — the chance to see one another’s faces, smell the aroma of fresh bread in a bakery, and avoid the nuisances masks sometimes caused.

But don’t throw your masks out — and keep one handy. Hochul left the decision-making in the hands of municipalities and businesses, so if a particular indoor location wants to leave a mask-or-vax requirement in place, it can. The Broadway League, for instance, has confirmed that the mask-and-vaccine mandates for Broadway shows will remain until at least April 30. And plenty of other spots — such as health care facilities and public transit like the Long Island Rail Road — still must require masks.

Many New Yorkers may be wary of the reversal, so courtesy remains a good strategy even without a mandate. That means wearing a mask when asked, respecting those who choose to wear one themselves, and remembering that those who are immunocompromised or too young to be vaccinated remain at risk.

Hochul’s decision to lift the statewide policy is a good move at the right time. Hochul cited data point after data point — from cases to hospitalizations — that showed remarkable declines in the spread of COVID-19 and the omicron variant. New York appears to be ahead of other parts of the country, which may explain why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has left its own mask guidance in place.

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But state officials must remain vigilant, watch the data, follow the science, and be prepared to make another change. Having clearer metrics in place would help. They — and we — must be prepared for the return of masks, and more, if new variants arise and downward trends reverse. And the very residents applauding the governor’s decision now would be wise to trust state officials if the guidance and the directives shift again.

Even as she lifted the general mandate, Hochul appropriately chose to leave the school mask mandate in place until at least early March. Her plan to have students tested for COVID-19 following February break and then to evaluate the situation makes sense, especially because of lower vaccination rates among children and previous case spikes after holidays.

In the meantime, winter break would be a great time for parents to start their children on the road to vaccination so that when the masks come off, they will be protected.

That will truly be reason to smile.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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