As Gov. Kathy Hochul lifts New York's indoor mask-or-vaccinate mandate for businesses, employers and their workers will be once again navigating the new normal of COVID-19 in which the virus is unlikely to be eradicated.
Still, for some industry advocates, the announcement on Wednesday was cheered as a step toward turning the page.
"I think the governor has been making choices, sometimes tough choices, based on the numbers and the data," said Mike Elmendorf, the president and CEO of the Associated General Contractors. "We've come a long way since those dark days of December and no matter what your business is, the announcement is good and welcomed news."
But some lawmakers, including Republican Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, urged the governor to get more input from elected officials on pandemic mitigation rules.
"I really think it needs to be in conjunction with her not only talking with the Department of Health, but also with the legislative leaders who are hearing from our constituents," Walsh said.
The mask mandate is ending as New York's COVID-19 case count has sharply decreased in recent weeks. Hospitalizations and new COVID-19 cases have declined.
Adding to some uncertainty for workers and their employers is the New York Hero Act, a law that requires businesses to have measures in place meant to prevent the spread of illnesses like COVID-19. Maritza Silva-Farrell, of the advocacy group ALIGN NY, said workers retain those safety rights under the law.
The measure is meant to put in place a minimum set of safety standards and protocols for New York workplaces, such as access to personal protective equipment as well as breaks for hand washing.
"If you are a worker and you are concerned about the rollback of the indoor masking, you should know you are protected by New York Hero," she said. "You should come with the other workers in your workplace and come together and set those health and safety standards so you are feeling safe in your workplace."
The Food Industry Alliance's Mike Durant said for businesses like grocery stores, an end to the mask rule also raises questions as the state allows county governments to retain mask mandates if they want.
"Flushing out the answer of what the governor's decision today means for employees and the interplay with the Hero Act goes a long to way to helping kind of alleviate some of that confusion," Durant said.
And as the pandemic has led to stresses for everyone, Durant urged customers to be respectful.
"I think there's an opportunity to be kind and be gentle. Personal choice seems to be the argument a lot of people have made with regard to masks, so just let that be," he said.