NYC mask mandate debate heats up as delta variant spurs new COVID cases

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NEW YORK (WPIX) – Some New York City officials this week called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to retighten COVID-19 restrictions as the delta variant spurs an uptick in cases in the five boroughs.

De Blasio, however, said he would hold off on reinstating an indoor mask mandate as COVID-19 hospitalizations in the city remain relatively low.

Meanwhile, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned the United States was at another pivotal point in the pandemic.

“Please know we, together, are not out of the woods yet,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said.

The spike in cases, driven by the highly transmissible delta variant, is impacting mostly unvaccinated Americans, according to health experts.

“It’s one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of, and that I’ve seen in my 20-year career,” Walensky said.

While about 70% of adults in New York City have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and vaccination sites have shuttered due to a drop in demand, the seven-day average of residents testing positive has steadily risen to about 2%.

City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi warned the risk to unvaccinated city residents is high.

“If you’re unvaccinated, this is perhaps the most dangerous time for you in terms of risk of COVID,” he said.

The question of how to slow the transmission of COVID has kicked off another heated political debate in New York City.

City Council health committee chairman Mark Levine believes it’s time to renew the indoor mask mandate, including for those who are vaccinated.

“It’s a small sacrifice for folks to me,” he said.

From Los Angeles to New Orleans, cities around the country reinstated indoor mask rules this week. But de Blasio said for now, an indoor mask mandate is not the answer for New York City.

“If people went and got vaccinated, we wouldn’t have to discuss any of these other things,” the mayor said.

The issue of masks and COVID vaccinations will be inherited by the next mayor of New York City, as the Nov. 2 general election inches closer.

Republican candidate for mayor Curtis Sliwa told PIX11 News he doesn’t want to go backward.

“Having to wear a mask everywhere was not only depressing for people, but it sort of signaled to them that there was despair and hopelessness and we’ll never get out of this,” he said.

Democratic mayoral hopeful Eric Adams wouldn’t rule out tighter mask rules.

“Let’s follow the science, and if the science states that we need to increase the wearing of masks and other safeguards then we have to do it,” he said.

As the debate continues, more places are making the COVID vaccine mandatory.

Kean University in New Jersey told students they need to provide proof of vaccination by Aug. 1 or they will be deregistered for their classes.

And there’s a new policy for New York City public health workers: get vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID testing.

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