Cecilia Lee, Illustrations Editor
Starting March 7, New Haveners will no longer be required to wear masks in the city’s restaurants, shops, bars and gyms.
At a press conference at City Hall on Friday afternoon, Mayor Justin Elicker and Health Director Maritza Bond announced that the city will soon be lifting its mask mandate in public spaces. Business owners will now decide on a case-by-case basis whether to continue requiring face coverings. This move, Elicker said, is in response to the recent decline in positivity rates, hospitalizations and case numbers in New Haven. However, face coverings will still be required in municipal buildings and schools.
“We’ve been watching very closely,” Elicker said. “And the numbers are all going the right direction. Positivity rates are going down, the hospitalizations are going down … so what we’re announcing today is a slight change in our overall mask policy.”
According to Bond, New Haven was experiencing 1,800 cases per 100,000 residents from Jan. 2 to Jan. 8, a number that has fallen to just 100 per 100,000 residents as of the past week. The positivity rate in the county on the day of the conference was only 2.5 percent, which she said is a 90 percent decrease from the peak levels in January.
Recent increases in vaccination rates, as well as a lower severity of disease associated with the Omicron variant, were also listed as reasons informing the city’s decision.
“We want to continue to encourage the community to get vaccinated,” Bond said. “When you’re sick, when you go into social settings … if you’re immunocompromised and you have a medical condition, we encourage you to still continue masking.”
New Haven’s current mask mandate was instituted in September of last year. Statewide, there has been no such policy since May 2021 — as of Monday, masks are also no longer required to be worn in Connecticut schools per an executive order from Gov. Ned Lamont.
In his speech at the press conference, Elicker explained the choice to maintain the mask mandates in New Haven schools despite recent changes in state policy. Only 31 percent of children aged five to 11 have received their first dose of the vaccine, he said, and there are also a “significant number” of higher-risk or immunocompromised people in local schools.
“When compared to public spaces where people typically can choose to go in or not go in, our children need to go to school,” Elicker said. “Similar to municipal buildings, where people need to come to our buildings, including high-risk people, people accessing services. We want to continue to have the highest priority of safety, so we’re keeping the mask mandate.”
Local officials reacted to the announcement with approval.
Ward 1 Alder Alex Guzhnay ’24 said that the Board of Alders was not involved with Elicker’s decision, but that he thinks the end to the mask mandate is a sign that New Haven is “on a great path.”
Some medical experts also supported the change, saying it was an appropriate response to recent COVID-19 data.
“Based on current trends, the decision to eliminate mask mandates on March 7th makes sense: Numbers are down, the public has masks [and] access to tests,” Naftali Kaminski, Yale School of Medicine chief of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine, wrote in an email to the News. “I do think that we should stay vigilant, be ready to be ahead of the curve and impose mask mandates and other mitigation methods rapidly if an outbreak is suspected … Mask wearing or other public health measures are not political statements, they are simply safety measure[s] used based on risk estimates and professional advice.”
Although the city is lifting its mask mandate, there is no indication that Yale will do the same. Student COVID-19 cases recently hit unprecedented levels. COVID-19 Coordinator Stephanie Spangler did not respond to requests for comment, but wrote in a campus-wide email on Feb. 25 that “adherence to masking has protected us in the classroom,” while “unmasked social activities” have contributed to the spread of the coronavirus.
Over the last week, New Haven County averaged 87 new daily COVID-19 cases.