mask mandate

NY Health Dept. Expected to Extend School Mask Mandate Past Feb. 21 Deadline: Sources

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The New York State Health Department is expected to extend the state's school mask mandate beyond its current deadline of Feb. 21, sources tell NBC New York.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has indicated that she would like to keep the mask mandate in schools in place temporarily, waiting until at least after the winter break to make sure there are no unexpected spikes in case, according to sources.

New York public schools are on February winter break from Feb. 21-25, with most students returning to classrooms on Feb. 28 — the day that Connecticut is lifting its mask requirement.

Hochul held a virtual meeting between state and schools officials Tuesday in which the statewide school mask mandate was discussed. Hochul has said that she will make an announcement regarding the mandate on Wednesday.

Hochul has two separate mandates to consider. The one requiring mask or vaccine proof in businesses expires Thursday, Feb. 10. As the state's COVID numbers continue to drop, Hochul may let that one expire.

The school and transit mandate, however, can be enforced until Feb. 21. The state health department is expected to extend that one, sources said.

On Monday, Hochul said that there was still one big stumbling block: Not enough children have gotten their COVID vaccinations.

"Let's get more children vaccinated, so they have that suit of armor they need to be protected," she said.

The news comes just one day after both New Jersey and Connecticut both set dates for lifting their respective school mask mandates. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said the state will end its school mask mandate on March 7,

Though the state mandate is ending, Murphy said school districts can continue their own mandates if they want, and they are not permitted to ban masks, either. The New Jersey Education Association -- with which Murphy is closely allied -- issued a statement endorsing the move, saying they were "cautiously optimistic" it was safe if trends continued.

Less than a month ago, Murphy declared a new public health emergency over the omicron variant and extended a number of executive orders that included the school and daycares mask mandate.

But Murphy told the New York Times in a Sunday interview that masks were never meant to be permanent, and that the change was timed for warmer weather, which would give schools more ventilation options.

New Jersey was hit badly by the omicron variant, consistently reporting more than 20,000 new infections a day for a large part of January. But just as quickly as the wave rose, it fell. On Sunday the state recorded just 1,625 new COVID-19 cases, down 95% in a month and back to the levels usually seen before omicron arrived.

Later in the afternoon, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced that the school mask mandate for his state would also be ending. The governor said that mandate, which also applies for child care centers, will end on Feb. 28. Individual districts will then have the choice whether to continue the mandate or drop them entirely.

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