Mask Off? ‘Do What Makes You Comfortable,’ Says Nassau’s Top Doctor

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While most customers who walked into Soul Brew in Bellmore wore face masks on Wednesday, the day that fully Covid-19-vaccinated New Yorkers could ditch their face coverings in most places, Nassau County Health Commissioner Dr. Larry Eisenstein, who is fully vaccinated, did not.

Eisenstein weighed in on why he dropped the mask while stopping for breakfast before a meeting that morning.

“For people who are fully vaccinated — fully vaccinated, and that’s a key thing — we know that the risk is relatively very, very low, of severe outcome or dying of Covid,” he says. “If I’m in a crowd, I’ll be wearing a mask. If I’m on an airplane, I’ll definitely be wearing a mask. If I’m sitting in a restaurant, I’m not wearing a mask — I’m fully vaccinated.”

The Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) announced its updated mask guidance for vaccinated individuals last week, recommending that the face coverings still be worn in certain places such as public transportation and in healthcare facilities. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that New York would adopt those guidelines on Wednesday.

Since then, there has been a divide between people across the country who believe masks should still be worn and those who think ditching them is long overdue. Only a few people at Soul Brew ditched their masks Wednesday, and Eisenstein says that different people will have different risk tolerances when confronted with the question of what they’ll decide going forward.

“For people who want to completely eradicate Covid, they want everybody to be wearing a mask all the time,” he says. “But there are consequences to that — there are psychological consequences, there are business consequences. Other people aren’t afraid at all of Covid, they think there shouldn’t be any masks at all. 

“Everybody has to do what makes them comfortable,” he adds, noting that he doesn’t mind wearing a mask and keeps it in his shirt pocket for when he needs it. “I do think there’s a sense of achievement and liberation that we’ve reached this point, but we’re not out of the woods and everybody should still be smart about it.”

The mask mandate was lifted 399 days after New York became the first state to enact a mandate of its kind, according to a statement that Cuomo issued on Wednesday.

“The steps we’re taking today don’t mean that Covid has been officially relegated to the history books,” Cuomo said. “We need to stay vigilant, continue to follow the safety guidelines in place, and help every single eligible New Yorker get vaccinated, so that we can finally reach that light at the end of the tunnel.”

New York has dropped to a Covid-19 positivity rate of 1 percent, the lowest since fall 2020, according to the governor’s office. Long Island’s Covid-19 positivity rate on a seven-day average is .9 percent. Meanwhile, the governor said that 62 percent of adult New Yorkers and 51 percent of all eligible New Yorkers have had at least one dose of the vaccine.

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