New York City has seen a rapid rise in coronavirus cases — more than 1,200 cases per day, roughly six times the number in June.
For weeks, city officials have been tracking the increase, and deliberating whether a broad mask mandate — similar to ones instituted in large urban areas like Los Angeles County and Washington — might be called for, to head off a more serious resurgence in New York, once the epicenter of the pandemic.
On Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio decided against such a mandate, choosing instead to strongly encourage all New Yorkers, even those who have been vaccinated, to wear masks indoors.
Mr. de Blasio said he wanted to focus on increasing vaccination rates, and worried that requiring everyone to wear masks would remove an incentive for those who are considering getting vaccinated now.
With the recent rise in virus cases, New York City now falls under new C.D.C. guidelines recommending masks in areas of high transmission.
The mayor said that he agreed with the C.D.C.’s guidance, but pointed out that he was aligned with leaders in New Jersey and Connecticut who similarly encouraged mask use but did not require it.
“We want to strongly recommend that people wear masks in indoor settings even if you’re vaccinated,” Mr. de Blasio said.
The city’s fragile economic recovery may be a factor in the city’s decision; a broader mask mandate could prompt employers to reconsider their plans to have their workers return to offices after Labor Day, and raise doubts about holding large gatherings like weddings. Mr. de Blasio said a mandate could also be difficult to enforce.
Some elected officials called on Mr. de Blasio to move more aggressively and institute a mask mandate now to curtail a third wave of cases.
“The one lesson of the last year and a half is you have to act fast, or you’re left with much more difficult choices down the road,” said Mark Levine, a city councilman from Manhattan who chairs the health committee. “I think it’s a huge mistake to delay this any further.”
Los Angeles County reinstated its new mask mandate last month, and Washington began to require masks over the weekend. The Democratic mayors of Atlanta and Kansas City, Mo., have reinstated forms of mask mandates, and Chicago’s mayor is considering one.
Mr. de Blasio has said that he wants to focus on vaccination, and he is considering France-style measures to require vaccination or a negative test to visit restaurants or movie theaters.
He believes that New Yorkers will be motivated to get vaccinated if they believe they will have more freedoms once they do so, like the ability to go about their lives without masks.
“We still want to respect the fact that vaccination can give you different opportunities and rights than unvaccinated people,” Mr. de Blasio said on Monday.
Eric Adams, the Democratic nominee for mayor, said he agreed that a mask mandate was not necessary right now.
“I don’t believe we’re there with a mandate yet, unless C.D.C. tells us, whatever the science is we must follow, but then personal responsibility must kick in,” Mr. Adams told reporters on Monday. “Also, vaccination vaccination, vaccination. Let’s get on the ground.”
New Yorkers are already required to wear masks on public transit and in hospitals and schools. Masks will be required at schools; Mr. de Blasio has been adamant that classes will be held in-person in September.
Mr. de Blasio also announced last week that city workers must get vaccinated or face weekly testing and offered a $100 incentive for people who get vaccinated at city sites.
On Monday, he said the city had hit an important milestone — 10 million vaccine doses administered — and announced a new policy: a vaccine mandate for new city employees.
“Every single new person hired by the City of New York — before they report to work, they must provide proof of vaccination,” he said.
Many Republican governors have resisted the idea of mask mandates. Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas issued an executive order barring local governments and state agencies from mandating vaccination and reinforcing an earlier order that prohibited officials from requiring face masks.
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida last week signed an executive order giving parents the power to decide whether their children should wear masks in schools, after Broward County, the state’s second largest school district, voted to require masks.
“In Florida, there will be no lockdowns,” Mr. DeSantis said to cheers at a restaurant in Cape Coral, Fla., on Friday. “There will be no school closures. There will be no restrictions and no mandates.”
Federal recommendations call for students, teachers and parents to wear masks, regardless of their vaccination status. Both Florida and Texas are facing surges, according to a New York Times database.