New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Sunday that the statewide masking requirement in schools will be lifted by March 2.
In a briefing held in Albany, the Democrat cited declining COVID-19 cases and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
She said counties and cities could keep their own mandates in place, and parents could still choose to send their kids to school in masks.
The new rules effective Wednesday apply to children 2 years and older in childcare facilities. New York State has 2.7 million schoolchildren, including about 1 million in New York City.
Earlier this month, Hochul let a broad mask mandate for most indoor settings expire, but said the schools requirement would remain in place. She had promised to revisit the schools question by the first week of March.
The broad mask mandate was implemented during a COVID-19 surge fueled by the omicron variant in December.
Masks are still required in some places, including public transit.
Hours after the announcement, Anthony Jasenski, chairman of the Schenectady County Legislature, announced the county had no plans to extend the masking in schools past March 2.
“We stand in support of Gov. Hochul’s decision to lift the state’s school mask mandate starting on Wednesday because we believe that parents should be allowed to make decisions about masking that are best for their families,” Jasenski said.
School districts across the region announced plans to lift the masking requirement on Wednesday, including the Greater Amsterdam School District.
In a message posted to the district’s website, Superintendent Richard Ruberti said the district will no longer be required come March 2, though anyone wishing to wear one can still do so.
“Students or staff wishing to still wear masks may do so,” he said. “Any ridicule or criticism for doing so will not be tolerated.”
Superintendents from the Schenectady City School District, Shenendehowa, Niskayuna and Johnstown school districts issued similar statements.
Hochul’s decision to lift the mask mandate in schools was praised by the New York State United Teachers union.
“We welcome this step toward normalcy. The governor is striking the right balance by empowering local officials to use data to determine if and when the mitigation strategies need to change in their areas,” Andy Pallotta, president of the teachers union, said in a statement.
Pallotta urged school districts to continue to work with educators to ensure confidence in health and safety plans.
Still, not every district in the state has plans to lift the mask mandate come Wednesday.
In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams said a decision to lift the mandate in the largest school district in the country won’t come until Friday – a full week after students return from February break.
Adams said if the downward trend in COVID-19 cases continues, he would also lift other measures, including doing away with proof of vaccination requirements at restaurants, bars and other indoor public places.
“At the end of this week, we will evaluate the numbers and make a final announcement on Friday. If we see no unforeseen spikes and our numbers continue to show a low level of risk, New York City will remove the indoor mask mandate for public school children, effective next Monday, March 7,” he said.
“Additionally, New York City’s numbers continue to go down day after day, so, as long as COVID indicators show a low level of risk and we see no surprises this week, on Monday, March 7 we will also lift Key2NYC requirements. This will give business owners the time to adapt and will allow us to ensure we are making the best public health decisions for the people of New York.”
Despite criticism over the state’s pandemic measures, Hochul said she remained resolute in sticking with experts and health data as her guide and “not let criticism and politics intervene in this decision-making.”
As of Saturday, state officials said the 7-day average for new cases was fewer than 1,671 for the first time since late July. Other metrics have also fallen rapidly, including hospitalizations and deaths.
Masks are still required in some places, including public transit, homeless shelters, jails and prisons, adult care facilities and healthcare settings.
Information from the Associated Press was contained in this report.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.
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