NY dumps mask mandate on subway trains and buses

New York state is dropping its mask requirement on public transportation thanks in part to the availability of new booster shots targeting the most common strain of COVID-19, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday.

Masks will be encouraged but not required on buses and trains, including the New York City subway system, the Long Island Rail Road, and the Metro-North Railroad, Hochul said.

Compliance with the subway mask requirement was high early in the coronavirus pandemic but has dropped steeply in recent months. There was little enforcement of the rule.

Masks will still be required in healthcare settings including hospitals and nursing homes, Hochul said.

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(Courtesy of MTA)

"It was there for the right reason. It protected health," Hochul said at a Bronx event. "And now we're in a far different place."

"Since the beginning of the pandemic the MTA has been guided by the health experts," MTA CEO Janno Lieber said in a statement. "With revised guidance from the New York State Department of Health, which was the basis for the mask requirement on public transit, now is the right time for New Yorkers to make personal choices about what works best for them." 

Federal officials approved booster shots last week that target the most prevalent strain of the COVID-19 omicron variant.

Hochul, a Democrat who is running for reelection, got the booster herself at the news conference and urged others to follow her example.

"We do believe that we’re in a good place right now, especially if New Yorkers take advantage of these boosters," she said.

Free masks will continue to be available at subway station booths as well as on commuter railroad trains for anyone who wants one, the MTA said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.