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State

Judge overturns NY mask mandate, state appeals

Gov. Kathy Hochul, wearing a red dress and waving in front of a U.S. flag and University at Buffalo backdrop.
Mike Groll
/
Office of the Governor
Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state Health department announced the state's mask mandate would be in effect until Feb. 1.

A New York judge ruled Monday that the state's mask mandate can't be enforced, after it was reinstituted by Gov. Kathy Hochul over concerns about a winter surge of coronavirus cases.

State Supreme Court Judge Thomas Rademaker said in his decision that the state Department of Health didn't have the legal authority to implement the mandate, and that it was up to the state Legislature to do so if needed.

The mandate "is a law that was promulgated and enacted unlawfully by an executive branch state agency, and therefore void and unenforceable," the judge said.

The state had initially instituted a mask mandate in April 2020 that ended in June 2021 for vaccinated individuals; Hochul announced in mid-December that it would go back into effect for at least a month. Earlier this month, the state health department said the mandate would be in place until Feb 1.

In a statement, Hochul said, "My responsibility as Governor is to protect New Yorkers throughout this public health crisis, and these measures help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. We strongly disagree with this ruling, and we are pursuing every option to reverse this immediately."

New York Attorney General Tish James made New York's response official early Tuesday morning:

The ruling comes as the omicron wave that gripped New York state appears to be fading. The state averaged around 23,400 new cases of the virus per day in the 7 day period that ended Sunday, down from 74,600 per day during the wave's peak in early January. Hospitalizations are dropping, too, declining 17% statewide in the past 7 days.

Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt issued his own statement:

"Nearly two years ago, New York became the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our state was shut down, our schools were closed, and our economy was decimated. Nearly 700 days later, today’s ruling by a NYS Supreme Court Judge reinforces what my Republican colleagues and I have said from the beginning: it’s past time for Governor Hochul and Democrat One-Party Rule to end the mandates. New Yorkers are fed up — and they are counting on us to return to a system of governance based on collaborative decision making, guidance, checks and balances."

Western New York Students First also said it was "incredibly happy" with the decision.

"The rights of students and the proper obligation(s) of New York State officials have been clearly laid out. We are aware that Governor Hochul has already said she will try and reverse the ruling. To Governor Hochul, we say 'Enough is enough.' If Governor Hochul wishes to continue masking children, without legal authority and despite no sound scientific basis for doing so, she should encourage the legislature to give her that authority."

James' appeal, however, automatically stays the mask mandate, according to guidance from the state Education Department, therefore masks must continue to be worn in schools until a further ruling.