New York will no longer require students and educators to wear masks in schools starting Wednesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Sunday, a milestone in the state’s two-year struggle against the coronavirus pandemic and a mostly welcome sign of the virus’s retreat.
“My friends, the day has come,” Ms. Hochul said, reiterating that the decision came in consultation with public health and education officials. The state’s decision does not supersede those of individual districts and counties, which can still impose mask mandates and other more restrictive measures.
Eric Adams, New York City’s mayor, has said for weeks that he is eager to remove virus-related restrictions across the city, including mask mandates in schools, and it appeared likely that the nation’s largest school district would follow the state’s example.
Spokespeople for the city Department of Education and the mayor, however, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In making her announcement, Ms. Hochul said that the mandate had been a vital aid in battling the Omicron surge. “When I look back at what was going on just a short time ago, I am so happy that we did have a mask requirement in place for schools at the time,” Ms. Hochul said. “That’s how we kept these numbers from getting even worse.”
The decision came as New York announced a statewide seven-day average positivity rate below 2 percent and hospitalizations under 2,000 for the first time since before the Omicron surge. The drop is part of a national decrease in coronavirus cases. Across the state, hospitals that were forced to limit elective procedures as a result of the virus have been approved to resume normal operations.
The announcement on schools seems poised to end a bitter and divisive chapter in the state’s pandemic history. Schools have increasingly become battlegrounds in a polarized national conversation between teachers, parents, students and politicians over what measures are appropriate to defend against the virus.
Ms. Hochul has been under pressure to roll back the state’s rules on masking in schools since she allowed the mandate for businesses to elapse earlier this month. At the time, the governor promised to revisit the question of masks in schools after students returned from their midwinter break in early March, butfound herself under increased pressure after nearbystates with Democratic governors, including Connecticut, New Jersey and Delaware, announced plans to lift their mandates.
Then, on Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Washington released new guidance that masks and social distancing were only necessary in areas where infection risk was high, clearing the way for the lifting of many virus prevention measures, including masking in schools.
That announcement came as the agency shifted its strategy in assessing risk from one based on case counts to one that weighs the stress on hospitals by coronavirus patients, as well as new cases per 100,000 people over the previous week. The guidance starkly changes the virus assessment nationwide from one in which 95 percent of counties were considered high risk to one in which most Americans can go about their lives without masking or social distancing.
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New York school mask mandate. New York will no longer require students and educators to wear masks in schools starting March 2, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced. The reversal of the state’s mandate for schools comes weeks after a similar mandate was rolled back for businesses.
A new C.D.C. framework. New guidelines released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help counties determine Covid restrictions suggest that 70 percent of Americans can now stop wearing masks, and no longer need to social distance or avoid crowded indoor spaces.
Sunday’s announcement is expected to be celebrated by many across the state. “The unmasking of our school children is a long overdue victory for kids and parents, educators and common sense,” Senate Minority leader Rob Ortt, a Republican who has pushed for a rollback of the mandate, said in a statement.
While Ms. Hochul’s decision leaves actual implementation power to the state’s hundreds of school districts, the announcement marks a major moment in New York’s halting efforts to keep its public schools open amid the pandemic. That is especially true in New York City, which first closed its sprawling system of roughly 1,600 schools in March 2020 and has kept strict virus mitigation measures in place since schools began to reopen in September 2020. The city only lifted its outdoor mask mandate for schools this past week. It is not yet clear whether the city’s teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers, would support the end of the mask mandate in city schools.
And while many parents support the end of mandates, the shift will almost certainly concern some families and educators who believe it is premature. A recent poll from the Siena College Research Institute, found that 58 percent of New York registered voters believed the state should hold off on lifting the mask mandate in schools until reviewing data from early March. That same poll, which was taken two weeks ago, found that 45 percent of respondents disapproved of the state’s rollback of mask mandates in private businesses.
The state’s ability to impose such mandates is the subject of a lawsuit pending in state court. Last month, Nassau County Justice Thomas Rademaker struck down the mask mandate as unconstitutional. New York State Attorney General Letitia James immediately filed to appeal the ruling, and the mandate was restored pending the outcome of the appeal. That case, which is considered a test of the state’s power, is expected to continue regardless of Ms. Hochul’s decision.