‘We have to wait to see what NYS is going to do:’ how new CDC mask guidance could impact Western New Yorkers

Coronavirus

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The return to ‘normalcy’ is much closer after the CDC announced people who are fully vaccinated do not have to wear masks or physically distance in most places.

“If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things you stopped doing because of the pandemic,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. “We have all longed for this moment: when we can get back to some sense of normalcy.”

While this applies to places outdoors and most indoor settings, there are still some places where vaccinated people must wear masks, like wherever they’re required by federal, state or local laws.

“There were three studies – one in Israel, two in the U.S. – that show that a person who’s fully vaccinated not only is protected against illness, but also protected against being infected and spreading it to other people,” said infectious disease expert Dr. Nancy Nielsen.

And although this is exciting news, experts say we shouldn’t throw away our face masks just yet.

“I think we’re going to have to wait and see, first of all, what New York State is going to do,” Nielsen said.

In a statement released hours after the CDC announced the updated guidance, Gov. Cuomo said he’s not lifting any restrictions just yet. Instead, he said his office is reviewing the CDC guidance with the state’s health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker.

But some local leaders are already urging the governor to adopt this new guidance. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz released a statement calling on the state to align with the CDC because, “many of the rules and regulations regarding businesses in our state are set by the New York State Department of Health.”

“I’m sure that not every location or venue is going to implement this new policy instantly,” said infectious disease expert Dr. John Crane. “Some of them may need to think about it; some of them may need to ask the health department for advice.”

And even if the state ends up adopting this guidance, Nielsen said there might be an issue with enforcement.

“If you have someone who is violently opposed to vaccinations and violently opposed to wearing a mask, then the question – that is a legitimate one – is ‘what’s anybody going to do about that?’ And the answer is nobody’s going to be able to enforce that at all,” she said.

But because this guidance only applies to vaccinated individuals, Dr. Crane said he’s hopeful this will be an incentive for people who haven’t gotten their COVID shot yet.

“Now that it’s becoming much easier to get a vaccine, some of those people who had just not gotten around to it yet, hopefully they will have the extra incentive to go and get vaccinated,” he said.

And as we wait for updated rules from Albany, News 4 is continuing to look into what this guidance will mean for businesses in Western New York – that includes local grocery stores. In a statement, officials from both Wegmans and Tops say they are waiting for further guidance from the state before making any decisions.

Marlee Tuskes is a reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2019. See more of her work here.

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