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New York Lifting Mask Mandate For Businesses; Keeping In Schools For Now, Hochul Says

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- New York State's indoor mask mandate for businesses is set to expire Thursday, but Gov. Kathy Hochul says it will remain in place for schools.

"New Yorkers, this is what we've waited for. Tremendous progress after two long years. We're not done, but this is trending in a very, very good direction," Hochul announced Wednesday.

The governor said it will be up to counties, cities and businesses to come up with their own policies around masks and vaccinations.

"We want to make sure that every business knows: This is your prerogative. And individuals who want to continue wearing masks -- I suspect when I walk the streets of New York City, as I often do, I'm still going to see a lot of people wearing masks, because they'll feel safer -- that is something they are very, very welcome and encouraged to do," she said. "But in terms of having a requirement, it is being lifted as of tomorrow."

So what does that mean for you?

Anywhere in New York state, you can lose the mask indoors at retail shops, restaurants, malls and the work place. In New York City, you will still need vaccine proof at restaurants, arenas, gyms and movies.

The state mask requirement lives on in places like mass transit and schools.

The governor thanked New Yorkers for their help fighting back the Omicron variant, citing low case numbers and strong vaccination rates.

"The numbers continue to decline," Hochul said.

WATCH: Gov. Hochul Gives COVID Update On Indoor Mask Mandate 

For the last two months, both customers and workers have been required to cover their faces or show proof of vaccination in most indoor settings. The change marks a promising shift in the fight against the pandemic.

As CBS2's Jennifer McLogan reported, many small businesses rejoiced at the news, like Mama Theresa's in Garden City Park, where the pizza ovens are blazing hot for masked employees.

"It's very, very difficult. So if the governor, she wants to take the mask off policy, it's great," owner Marco Nicotra said. "I just found out this morning, I was watching back home in Italy, they do the same thing there, too."

"I don't think it's time right now. We got to wait a little bit longer, maybe another two months," bagel shop worker Marcelo Munoz added.

Others McLogan spoke with were split.

"That's like a dream come true, because I want to return to the old days, when we could just worry less about a disease," Mineola shopper Michael Naggar said.

Watch Jennifer McLogan's report --

"I think it's time that we took back our freedoms and we get the choice whether we want to wear a mask or not," said North Bellmore resident Nicole Miller.

"I feel comfortable with my mask on, as well as seeing everyone else with their masks on," said Herricks shopper Helen Levy. "Because in a place like this, someone sneezes or coughs?"

"Definitely over the mask situation, definitely over it. I hate it," one person said.

"It's about time. We need to return to some sort of normalcy," said Travis Schwerif, in Hell's Kitchen.

"I do think that people need to pay attention more," said Danny Friedman, of the Upper West Side. "People still need to stay vigilant."

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

While the business mandate may be coming to an end, the governor said she's not ready to do the same for schools.

Schools will send COVID test kits home with students heading into winter break. State health officials will continue to monitor the situation around the world and reassess in early March.

"After the break, after we've had kids tested, we are going to make an assessment that first week in March, based on all the metrics I've just described to you, and look at that combined picture," Hochul said.

"Honestly, I think we are so over the masks, and I think it's about time that we got rid of the mask," parent Dina Kukaj said.

"I think it's a bit too premature. I think it's a good opinion to just sort of wait a little bit longer," another person said.

Masks in schools have been a flashpoint on Long Island, where superintendents met with the governor.

"We want a concrete metric to determine when masks can come off and we can move towards greater normalcy within our schools," Elmwood Superintendent Kenneth Bossert said. "I think school leaders, for some time now, have been looking for a shift from pandemic response to endemic planning. We understand that COVID-19 is now going to be part of our lives, and we need to function with the greatest sense of normalcy possible while mitigating the virus."

"What this does is it continues to frustrate and aggravate parents. There is no reason to have a mask mandate for our schools," said Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, who has spearheaded the movement against masks.

COVID VACCINE

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends masks in schools, regardless of vaccination status.

Masks will still be required in congregant settings, like hospitals and nursing homes, and on mass transit.

Medical experts also say there are situations where you might want to keep them on.

"It can still be a good idea to wear a mask, not necessarily to protect yourself but to keep from spreading the coronavirus to the most vulnerable among us," CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez explained. "People like the elderly and those with weak immune systems. Wearing a mask could help keep nanna and pop-pop safe from COVID."

"For the kids who are 5-12, we don't have enough of those children vaccinated and I think parents are very cautious," added Dr. Sharon Nachman of Stony Brook Children's Hospital.

The White House parts with everyone in the Tri-State Area, saying nobody should drop mask mandates of any kind.

"We continue to recommend masking in areas of substantial transmission, which is basically the entire country at this point, that's essentially everywhere for indoor settings," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday.

CBS2's Dick Brennan asked Dr. Shereef Elnahal, president and CEO of University Hospital Newark, why there are so many different interpretations of the numbers.

"I think reasonable people can disagree on the exact timing of the removal of some of these restrictions. I don't think Governor Hochul today ruled out taking masks off of kids sometime in the near future. I think they are looking at their data and making decisions that are tough, frankly," Elnahal said.

Earlier this week, Connecticut and New Jersey announced their plans to update mask policies.

The city of Hoboken, New Jersey, officially dropped its mask mandate Wednesday, citing Hudson County's overall positivity rate falling below 5%.

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