ALBANY, N.Y. — New York State’s indoor mask mandate will remain in effect after an appeals court judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked a lower-court ruling from a day before that had abruptly struck down the rule and created confusion across schools and businesses.
The decision on Tuesday came after a ruling on Monday by Justice Thomas Rademaker, of State Supreme Court in Nassau County, who had said the rule requiring masks violated the State Constitution.
His ruling had abruptly nullified part of the rule imposed by Gov. Kathy Hochul last month, amid a surge in coronavirus cases driven by the Omicron variant, that required masks or proof of full vaccination at all indoor public spaces statewide.
Ms. Hochul immediately vowed to fight the decision, with Letitia James, the state attorney general, filing a motion to stay the ruling in an attempt to put it on hold while the state filed a formal appeal.
On Tuesday afternoon, Justice Robert J. Miller, the state appeals court judge, sided with the state and granted the stay, effectively allowing the mask rule to temporarily go back into effect. Justice Miller scheduled another hearing on the matter for Friday morning.
Despite the reprieve, the ruling on Monday had injected a jolt of uncertainty across the state at a time when New York is still grappling with the tail end of a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. It left parents and teachers scrambling all of Tuesday to decipher whether children would be required to wear masks in schools and it revived political flash points over mask-wearing.
While officials said the ruling only affected the state mask rule, and did not supersede any local or federal rules around masking, state officials scrambled on Monday night to let hundreds of school districts know that they should continue to follow the mask rule while the legal issues were ironed out.
But some schools, especially on Long Island, where mask mandates have become particularly divisive, said they would take Justice Rademaker’s decision as license to shift their policies. They informed parents through late night and early morning posts on their websites and social media pages that masks would be optional for staff and students on Tuesday.
City Hall officials, for example, said that the decision had no immediate impact on New York City’s schools since the city’s education department had its own masking policies in place before the state’s mandate.
Ms. Hochul defended the mandate at a virus briefing on Tuesday in Syracuse.
She asked that parents and students continue to follow the mask policy, which she said was critical to beating back the Omicron variant and keeping children in schools.
“The last thing I want to see is a different trend because people gave up on the masks,” she said.
The Omicron surge has been receding in New York, but it is not over. An average of about 20,000 people in the state are now testing positive for the coronavirus each day, down sharply from the surge’s peak of 90,000 people who tested positive on Jan. 7. The positivity rate has also fallen, by half, from more than 22 percent to 10 percent.
But New York’s daily case numbers remain far higher than at the start of the surge in early December, and hospitals are still straining to treat about 10,000 Covid patients statewide. Hospitalizations have begun declining but remain higher than at any point since May 2020. More than 130 people each day have been dying of the virus statewide.
About this data
Sources: State and local health agencies (cases, deaths); U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (hospitalizations).
Justice Rademaker, who has run on the Conservative Party line, was elected to the Supreme Court in Nassau County in 2019. The Supreme Court in New York is the highest trial court in the state, but not the court of last resort; the Court of Appeal is the highest court.
Following his ruling, some school districts on Long Island began telling parents that masks were optional as of Tuesday morning.