Uncovered faces could become the latest casualty of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s sweeping program to combat a resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic. In one of her biggest decisions since taking office, Hochul is hinting at reinstating universal statewide mask mandates for New Yorkers to wear in public, regardless of vaccination status.

The North Country has more than double the state’s average COVID infection rate of 2.34% with an average regional rate of 5.43% since Monday, according to the governor’s office. Northern New York’s rate of new coronavirus cases are the highest in the state. Add the delta variant to the mix, and you run the risk of COVID spikes all over the state.

This is why New Yorkers might have to wear masks again.

By contrast, New York City’s rate of new virus cases is about 1.31% — below the state average, and with a far more densely populated region and high-risk rate of transmission, especially with the spreading delta variant. This is an about-face from 2020 when New York City was the global epicenter of the pandemic.

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo imposed a statewide mandate for all New Yorkers ages 2 and older to wear facial coverings in public in April 2020. The mandate lasted until June 25. Do we really want to return to shutdowns, high unemployment and a stagnant economy? Hochul does not possess the same executive authority at this time, but suggested similar mask requirements for certain regions or public areas could return if COVID-19 infections increase. The disparity in COVID infection rates across the state is attributable to low vaccination rates and community trends of mask-wearing.

This possibility is behind Hochul’s suggestion that mask requirements for certain regions or public areas could return if COVID-19 infections increase. It also illustrates that the threat to public health isn’t going to go away overnight and that we have to be mindful of protecting ourselves.

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