Friday, December 8

For bus and train riders, the mask confusion continues

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a divisive and polarizing issue in the world for more than two years.

Judging from the comments of public transit riders who heard this week that they would no longer be required to wear masks on trains and buses, only to be told a day later that they would, it continues to be.

A day after airports and airlines across the country jettisoned their mask requirements for patrons after a federal judge in Florida struck down a national mask mandate for flyers, Gov. Kathy Hochul declined to follow suit.

“We are going to continue for public transit,” she said during a news conference in Syracuse in which she discussed a rise in new cases of Covid-19.

She said masks will also continue to be required in settings such as nursing homes and jails.

NFTA lifts mask mandate for airports, Metro Bus and Rail

NFTA spokeswoman Helen Tederous said the authority’s decision follows the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s Monday directive indicating it will no longer enforce the emergency measures ordered by President Biden in February of 2021 as a precaution against spreading Covid-19.

“Let’s just be smart about it,” she said.

The news was not welcomed by William Thomas Lash Jr., who regularly uses public transportation to get to and from the Buffalo Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

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As someone who lives with PTSD, he was thrilled to hear Tuesday that the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority would no longer require public transit users to wear a mask to help stop the spread of Covid-19, which he said made him feel confined.

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And he was just as unhappy when the state stepped in Wednesday and reversed that decision.

“It doesn’t make sense to me,” he said while waiting inside the NFTA Metro Station at Amherst and Main streets.

“If it’s lifted everywhere else, then lift it.”

Not all mass transit riders in Buffalo were as bothered as he was.

It is the safe thing to do, said Daryl Parker, an East Side resident and regular user of mass transit who was waiting for a bus inside the NFTA Metro Station at Main and Utica streets.

“I’m boosted and everything, and I’m still wearing my mask,” Parker said, referring to his Covid-19 vaccination status.

“I don’t think this is going anywhere,” he said of the coronavirus. “It’s like the flu now.”

Alia Fields, a University District resident who was waiting inside a bus shelter at Delavan Avenue and Main Street, also preferred to be cautious when it comes to wearing a mask in public spaces to protect against the spread of the various strains of Covid-19.

“They should not lift the mask mandate. For right now, the Covid rates are going up. The mask mandate is to protect everybody, because you don’t know if people have Covid or not,” Fields said.  

All transportation authorities outside of New York City had announced they were dropping their mask requirements. New York City has kept its in place for public transportation.

Following the Monday decision of a federal judge in Florida, which struck down Washington’s mask directives on public transportation, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration said late Monday it would drop mask requirements at the Buffalo Niagara and Niagara Falls international airports. That prompted the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to follow suit on Tuesday.

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But after Hochul’s statement, the NFTA clarified that masks would continue to be required for all of their services and facilities.

“First and foremost, we want to apologize for what is sure to be confusing to our travelers and riders, but due to the Governor’s announcement updating COVID regulations from the New York State Department of Health, masks will still be required in all public transportation entities within the State of New York until further notice. This includes the Buffalo Niagara International and Niagara Falls International Airports, Metro Bus and Rail and all Paratransit services,” the NFTA said in a statement.

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