Hochul lifts school mask mandate beginning Wednesday

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

Gov. Kathy Hochul at a press briefing Feb. 15. Courtesy of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Office

ALBANY — Gov. Kathy Hochul announced at a press briefing Sunday that the statewide school mask mandate will be lifted beginning Wednesday.

After analyzing the data statewide and globally, and handing out millions of COVID-19 test kits in schools before winter break, the decision was made to lift the requirement in schools statewide, Hochul said.

The decision comes two days after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance stating that indoor masking is not necessary for most individuals in counties with low or medium transmission rates of the virus. The new guidance applies to both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.

“Based on the indications that they look at, infection rates as well as admissions, they came up with a calculation of what constitutes a low, medium or high community transmission level, and 75% of the population right now lives in an area that is considered low or medium risk,” Hochul said. “That is very positive.”

The CDC’s guidance for low and medium risk areas applies to schools as well, the governor added.

“Given the decline in our rates, our hospitalization, strong vaccination rates and CDC guidance, the day has come — today we are announcing that we will be lifting the statewide mask requirement in schools, and that will be effective this Wednesday, March 2,” Hochul said.

Students return to the classroom Monday following a week-long winter break. The requirement will be lifted Wednesday to give a couple of extra days for testing, particularly for students, families and staff who are returning this weekend from vacations outside their home area, and to finalize the guidelines.

While the statewide mandate is being lifted, counties will still have the option to impose a mask mandate in schools if community transmission rates are high, Hochul said.

“We will lift the statewide requirement based on all the data I have just outlined, however, there are some counties in the state of New York where there is a higher rate of transmission. We will allow them the flexibility to determine what is best for their county,” Hochul said. “We would encourage them to take a look at this and follow the CDC, however this will no longer be a mandate.”

Families will also have the option to make their own decisions on masking their children, Hochul said, adding that there should be no judgments or harassment of any families or school staff for their personal decisions with regard to masking.

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