NEW YORK -- Gov. Kathy Hochul said Wednesday masks are now optional for people on mass transit and in other settings.
The MTA says only about 60% of riders were still wearing masks in the system anyway, and the MTA said the requirement was getting harder to justify when most of the city had already moved on from masks.
"This is our subway sign," Hochul said, referring to the new notifications the state has implemented. "So places like shelters, correctional facilities, detention centers, and, yes, mass transit, you'll see this little character. Masks are encouraged but optional.
"Let's respect each other's choices. What that means is, if you choose not to have a mask, that is your personal decision. You'll do your own personal risk assessment of who you're exposed to, your own vulnerabilities, where you work. You'll make your own determination," she continued. "But do not judge your fellow passengers on what their choices are."
Hochul said masks will remain required at adult care facilities, "as well as other health care facilities regulated by the Department of Health, while there is still the variant at large."
Watch Alice Gainer's report
Most transit riders told CBS2's Dick Brennan it's goodbye and good riddance.
"I'm over it. I'm completely over it. I've been over it for years now," Queens resident Theresa Waddy said.
"It's awesome. I love it ... Yeah, I'm done with masks," Upper West Side resident John Moore said.
"I think it's the right decision to make," one man said. "I don't wear the mask on the subway."
"I personally don't like masks," a straphanger said.
The governor cited the decline in hospitalizations, but some are still concerned about the BA.5 variant, which is the most transmissible one yet.
"No, I'm not gonna chance it. So if it takes another two years, I'll be wearing it still," Midtown resident Lorraine McCarroll said.
"If it's really crowded and people are really close and indoors, I think I'd still wear a mask," Midtown resident Tai Do said.
"My personal thing is that I feel more safe if I'm wearing a mask. That's why I'm wearing a mask," a woman said.
"I'm a mask-on person. I don't want to spread COVID. I care about the people around me," said Daniel Chen of the Upper East Side.
Some medical experts agree continuing to mask is the way to go.
"I think right now, especially as we go into indoor weather, spending more time inside when these viruses can circulate, that's actually when the masking is most important," said Dr. Purvi Parikh, an immunologist with the Allergy and Asthma Network.
Parikh says the virus is still causing many to get infected.
"As an immunologist, I've been diagnosing COVID-19 cases daily for over the last 90 days and have been writing for Paxlovid almost every single day," she said.
She says that's all the more reason to get the newly available booster.
Hochul made the announcement before receiving her latest East Harlem, CBS2's Alice Gainer reported.booster at the Boriken Neighborhood Health Center in
"We have a booster that is tailored to the dominant variant that's circulating," state Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said.
If you're confused about whether to get a booster, Bassett offered guidance.
"If it has been more than two months since you got your last shot, you're 12 or over, you should get boosted at this time. It can be with a booster we think will provide people with a lot more protection," Bassett said.
The White House COVID-19 Response Team says the U.S. is moving towards an annual COVID shot for most Americans, similar to how the flu shot is handled with the yearly vaccine matching current strains in circulation.
"For a majority of Americans, one shot a year will provide a very high degree of protection against serious illness, and that's what we gotta be focused on," said Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator.
The latest booster combines parts of the original vaccine, with components that target Omicron subvariants.
Appointments for updated boosters are available in New York City. Check with your pharmacy or doctor.
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