Mask mandate could threaten NYC’s struggling economic recovery

Mask mandate could threaten NYC's struggling economic recovery

New York City is already struggling to regain the jobs it lost amid the COVID-19 pandemic — but fears are now mounting that Gov. Kathy Hochul’s new mask mandate could slow the Big Apple’s recovery even more.

The city’s current unemployment rate of 9.4 percent is more than double the national average of 4.2 percent, new state and federal data shows.

While the US added nearly 6 million jobs in the last year, the latest state data shows the Big Apple’s economic recovery lagged considerably with just 174,000 jobs regained in the 12 months through October.

The absence of visitors and Manhattan’s 1 million office workers has contributed to how severely the city’s tourism, hospitality and retail industries have been ravaged by the pandemic.

The city has regained less than six of every 10 jobs it lost since early 2020, Center for New York City Affairs economist James Parrott told the New York Times.

The US, in comparison, has regained more than 90 percent of jobs lost.

“It certainly looks to me like we’re going to have a much slower, much more drawn-out recovery,” Parrott said of New York City’s return to pre-pandemic job levels.

Mask signage is pictured in NoHo.
New York City has seen some of the highest vaccination rates in the US.
Alec Tabak

As the Big Apple experienced some of the lowest rates of COVID-19 and highest rates of vaccination across the US, about 28 percent of Manhattan office workers were returning to the office on an average weekday, according to a survey by the business group The Partnership for New York City.

Eight percent of office workers were in their workplace full-time as of last month, the poll showed.  

Prior to the Omicron variant emerging, polled employers were expecting almost half of office workers to be back in the office on an average weekday by the end of January.

Governor Kathy Hochul, above, recently announced a mask-at-your-desk mandate.
Gov. Kathy Hochul recently announced a mask-at-your-desk mandate.
James Messerschmidt for NY Post

But those expectations are now up in the air with Hochul’s sudden mask-at-your-desk mandate sparking outrage as the city continues to try to claw its way out of the ongoing economic rut.

Hochul’s new directive — which went into effect Monday — requires workers and customers to wear masks or show proof of vaccination in yet another challenge for struggling businesses and offices trying to lure workers back.

“These mask mandates hinder the desire people have to get back to the office and further delay the revitalization of Midtown and downtown office life,” one outraged financier told The Post.

Masked shoppers bundle up while out and about in New York.
Masked shoppers bundle up while out and about in New York.

The new statewide rules were put into effect largely to stem the tide of a surge in cases upstate where vaccination rates are low.

New York City’s latest seven-day COVID positivity rate of 2.7 percent is the state’s lowest, according to state data. Meanwhile, Hochul’s native western New York tops out at 9.55 percent.

Mayor-elect Eric Adams on Tuesday vowed to adopt a tactful approach toward enforcement of the mandate, which will remain in force until Jan. 15.

“I support what the governor is doing. It is a non-invasive way of just telling New Yorkers that this is a serious moment,” he said on PIX 11. “These spikes are coming and going, new variants, and from time to time, we have to adjust.”

Additional reporting by Bernadette Hogan

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