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As N.Y.C. approaches the high alert level for the virus, the city recommends but doesn’t mandate masks.


Citing high community transmission and rising hospitalizations from a fifth wave of coronavirus cases, New York City health officials on Monday strongly recommended that all individuals wear medical-grade masks in offices, grocery stores and other public indoor settings citywide.

The new recommendations, issued in a health advisory by the city health commissioner, come as the city approaches the orange, or “high” alert level for Covid-19, a benchmark it expects to hit in the coming days. The new advisory also calls on those who are at increased risk for severe illness, including unvaccinated children under 5 and people over 65, to avoid nonessential indoor gatherings and crowded settings.

The recommendations are not mandates, however. Mayor Eric Adams, who rolled back school masking regulations and vaccination checks at restaurants and theaters months ago, has not signaled a willingness to return to mandates, though he has said he is watching the situation closely.

“We are not at the point of mandating masks,” Mayor Adams said on Monday, adding that city hospitals were not overwhelmed and that there were new tools, like antivirals, to deal with the virus. “We are not at the point of doing anything other than urging New Yorkers, while you are indoors in large settings, social settings, wear your masks.”

“If there comes a time that our hospitals are in a state of emergency, or we’re trending that way, and my doctors that run the hospitals tell me this is what we need to do I’m going to listen to them,” he added.

Mr. Adams’ own health policy, published in March this year, recommends that he institute a mask mandate for all public indoor settings, once the city hits a high level of coronavirus transmission. However, he can choose not to follow that recommendation, and in the past has emphasized that he can use his discretion while setting health policy. When the city entered the medium alert level, he did not restore an indoor mask mandate in schools nor a policy requiring proof of vaccination for indoor dining.

The new masking recommendations come as New York City offices and businesses strain to return to something resembling their pre-Covid normal. Most city offices stopped requiring masks months ago, and masks inside stores are now the exception rather than the rule. But the new health advisory specifically mentions offices — and meeting rooms, restrooms, elevators and hallways — as locations where people should now wear masks even if they are vaccinated.

It remains to be seen if offices will reinstate mask rules en masse. Jonathan Freedman, a spokesman for Jefferies, an investment bank based in Midtown Manhattan, said that his firm will continue requiring workers to mask up in meeting rooms and hallways, a policy it never dropped even as other offices did.

“We were probably an outlier in that we never told people to stop masking in common areas,” he said.

After a six-week lull following the enormous Omicron wave in December and January, new confirmed cases have been steadily rising in New York City since March. The increase is being propelled by a rapidly spreading Omicron subvariant, BA.2.12.1, that was identified in April by state health officials and is now a growing share of cases around the country. A majority of New York counties are already at the C.D.C.’s orange, or high alert level.

Emma G. Fitzsimmons, Emma Goldberg and Matthew Haag contributed reporting.