New York schools set to finally lift mask mandate Wednesday

(The Center Square) — New York expects to drop its mask mandate for schools on Wednesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul told reporters Sunday afternoon.

The governor said that individual counties and cities…

(The Center Square) — New York expects to drop its mask mandate for schools on Wednesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul told reporters Sunday afternoon.

The governor said that individual counties and cities could maintain mask mandates if leaders in those communities felt it was necessary. New York City schools will keep the mask mandate for its approximately 1 million schoolchildren through this upcoming week. However, shortly after Hochul’s announcement, Mayor Eric Adams said mandates for the schools and other businesses likely would be lifted.

Those decisions came after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines on Friday. In the new guidance, federal officials indicated only counties with what’s considered a high level of COVID-19 should continue with mask mandates.

The federal agency listed 11 of New York’s 62 counties under that classification.

Hochul said her administration spent the weekend talking with teachers, parent-teacher association leaders and education officials. The governor said the school officials wanted more time to “assess the guidance” the state is devising. That’s because some families remain on vacation, and some school leaders have not yet returned because of winter break.

“We believe that by Wednesday, we’ll be able to have a situation where we’ll have the lifting of the mask requirement,” she said.

Besides schools, that would also include daycare centers, where children as young as 2 years old must currently wear masks.

The 11 upstate counties still considered high-risk areas should consider mandates, but the state would not extend its order to cover them, Hochul said.

“We will allow them the flexibility to determine what’s best for their county,” the governor said. “We would encourage them to take a look at this and follow the CDC. But this will no longer be a mandate.”

She also said parents could still allow their children to wear masks if they feel it’s necessary to protect their health.

Even as the mandate is likely going away in the coming days, the governor said the state will send out nearly 5 million test kits later this week to students. New York will also continue to encourage all eligible residents to get vaccinated and boosted.

The mask mandate in schools was met with opposition by Republicans in Albany as well as some parents. Last month, a judge in Nassau County ruled the state’s mask order unconstitutional. However, a higher court quickly issued a stay on that decision as state leaders appealed the ruling.

Shortly after Hochul finished her press conference from the state capitol, Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, said lifting the mandate served as “a long-overdue victory for kids and parents, educators and common sense.”

He also called on the legislature to take up a resolution he’s offered to end the state of emergency in New York.

“Our colleagues across the aisle have refused to act — it’s time that we take this up for a vote this week,” he said.

While Democratic lawmakers may show some reticence, Democratic executives show some willingness, starting with Adams.

The mayor noted that New York City schools return Monday from a week-long break. Barring any unexpected spikes in cases over the next few days, Adams said the mask mandate for city schools would end effective next Monday, March 7.

That’s not the only mandate that may end next Monday. Adams said the vaccine requirement for indoor dining, fitness and entertainment venues could also go away on the same day.

“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 … we will also lift Key2NYC requirements,” Adams said in a statement. “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.”

The city’s other vaccine mandates would stay in effect, he added.

Once the state lifts the mask mandate for schools, the only places where facial coverings will remain mandatory are state-licensed healthcare and nursing home facilities, correctional centers, homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters. Masks will also remain a requirement, per federal order, at airports and bus terminals — as well as on buses, planes and trains.

However, Hochul said state leaders are looking into the prevalence of COVID-19 cases in those facilities, and based on the data the mandate could be lifted in those places as well.

“I just want to make sure we have all the data available before we would end masks in these categories as well,” she said. “But that is coming under review.”