Photo by Yoav Aziz via Unsplash

New York State recently updated its reopening guidance as mask restrictions are lifting and an influx of workers return to their offices. 

As per state legislation, if a business in New York chooses to reopen amidst the pandemic, their operations must follow the guidelines previously outlined by the states. As summer approaches and businesses are reopening, the state of New York has announced changes to the guidelines that make up the New York Forward initiative.

Among the new guidelines executed by the Governor’s update are the new rules distinguishing between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had announced the lifting of mask mandates for vaccinated individuals–– a step that is now reflected in New York’s own COVID-19 guidelines. 

Capacity is now only restrained by how well unvaccinated individuals can maintain social distancing within a given space. This means that instead of maximum capacity percentages being established to limit the number of people who can gather safely, attendance to certain places rely most heavily on the vaccination statuses of its inhabitants. If an individual is fully vaccinated, they do not need to maintain a specific distance at all. 

The ways of communicating vaccination statuses have been updated, as well. Rather than a strict and unyielding process to determine status, businesses can use the method that they prefer. While requiring proof of vaccination may still be enforced, businesses can also rely on the honor system in order to gauge the number of vaccinated individuals. 

One of the most significant changes is that of health screenings. Previously, an employer would engage in the questioning of their employees about their health status, including their current health symptoms and any possible contact with the disease in the time frame of 14 days. Now, employers will screen with the following questions: 

  1. Are you currently experiencing, or recently experienced (in the last 48 hours), any new or worsening COVID-19 symptoms?
  2. Have you had close contact (being within six feet for at least 10 minutes over a 24-hour period) or proximate contact (as determined by health authorities) in the past 10 days with any person confirmed by diagnostic test, or suspected based on symptoms, to have COVID-19?
  3. Have you tested positive through a diagnostic test for COVID-19 in the past 10 days?

Masks are also no longer required for fully vaccinated individuals. Those who are not vaccinated are still required to wear a mask and follow the previous guidelines for masking in public places. Similarly, physical social distance does not need to be enforced for vaccinated individuals, while those who have not yet received a vaccination are expected to maintain proper distance. 

Along with the announcement for updated guidelines, Governor Cuomo announced that a majority of business restrictions from the pandemic will be lifted once 70% of New York citizens have at least received their first dose of the vaccine. 

The State Senate and Assembly have also made numerous amendments to the New York HERO Act, which will continue to adjust business operations within the state. 

The New York Health and Essential Rights Act (NY HERO) was signed into order by Governor Cuomo in the beginning of May, instigating the mandate for new workplace safety requirements in consideration of the COVID-19 pandemic. The act requires businesses to create “clear, enforceable health and safety standards” upon reopening, in order to protect employees and, in turn, their communities, through the New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL).

The changes that may potentially be passed on this act would include prolonging the deadlines of both NYSDOL’s time to release standards as well as businesses’ time to adopt them. Significant employer liability provisions have also been removed within the amendments, and the language for the original perceived defects has been altered by now requiring an employee to provide the employer with “30 days’ notice and an opportunity to cure a violation before they can bring a civil action, unless the employee ‘alleges with particularity that the employer has demonstrated an unwillingness to cure a violation in bad faith.’” 

Among other changes include the implementation of a six-month statute of limitations, as well as the clarification of the jurisdiction for joint workplace safety committees. 

These updates to the New York Forward plan and the NY HERO Act are crucial for the proper steps towards a full reopening of the state. Businesses continue to adjust to the unpredictability of the pandemic, even over a year later, and the new guidelines indicate progress within the state.

Written ByAddison Gallagher

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