Top state health official wary of mask mandates

By Published On: December 22nd, 2022Categories: Capitol Notes

Despite some in the medical community arguing that a mask mandate this holiday season in New York would prevent the spread of infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, state Health Department First Deputy Commissioner and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Eugene Heslin believes the decision to wear a facial covering in public should be left up to individual New Yorkers.

“Frankly, I don’t think mandates work,” he told The Capitol Pressroom.

“I just don’t think that, you know, society right now is accepting. I think that education is a better option. I think that thinking about all the (other) preventive measures is a better option,” said Heslin, who highlighted how politicized masks have become.

But that doesn’t mean he is discouraging New Yorkers from wearing a mask in crowds, as he opts for a face covering when out in public. “I believe that masks make a difference. I believe, at a personal level, that I have a social obligation to protect my family and others. That’s part of public health,” he said, noting that the CDC recommends masking if you’re “at risk or have at risk people in your environment.”

The renewed conversation about masking comes at a time when more than two dozen New Yorkers with COVID-19 are dying daily and hospitalizations with COVID-19 tick up slowly toward 4,000 patients. Heslin described transmission rates in New York as high, but stressed that vaccinations were helping mitigate the effect of COVID-19 and that the state’s health system was well positioned to treat New Yorkers.

He also endorsed the use of proactive COVID-19 testing, even when asymptomatic, as a means of preventing the spread of the virus.

“When you’re going into a big event where you’re increasing risk to yourself and others, that’s a good time to test,” Heslin said. “I periodically test and there’s no rule of thumb that I follow.”