What to Know
- NYC schools will drop their outdoor mask mandates effective Monday but face coverings are still required indoors for all at this point
- It comes as the CDC significantly eases federal guidelines around face masks, essentially saying most people don't need to wear them in indoor public settings unless there's a high level of severe disease
- The health agency has pivoted to a community level risk model that weighs threats of severe illness and death rather than transmission; over 70% of the U.S. population is in a low or medium level now
New York City schools will end their outdoor mask mandates starting on Monday, but face coverings will still be required for all students, staff and visitors inside the buildings, even as new guidelines from the CDC no longer recommend them.
The announcement from Chancellor David Banks Friday came ahead of the official CDC announcement, which marks a pivot in core strategy from the Biden administration as it looks to contain severe illness rather than overall infections.
As for New York City schools, there's no set date to end the indoor masking, which has been in place regardless of vaccination status, at this point. Core COVID protocols like ventilation, distancing, test kit distribution and daily health screening, will also stay in place for now.
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“Throughout the pandemic, our schools have remained some of the safest spaces for our students and staff, thanks to our gold standard health and safety protocol,” Banks said in a statement. “I am so pleased that we are able to make this exciting announcement and safely allow students and staff to remove their masks when outdoors at NYC public schools."
A spokesperson for the United Federation of Teachers, one of the city's most powerful unions representing that group, supports the plan, saying in a statement, "It is the next step in the school system's careful evaluation of COVID procedures."
The developments come the same day the CDC eased federal mask guidance, essentially saying that most Americans needn't wear masks in indoor public settings unless there's a heightened risk of severe disease or health system strain.
Over 70% of the U.S. population, including New York City, is now in a location with a COVID community level described as low or medium, the health agency said Friday, which means it wouldn't advise masks indoors for nonvulnerable people.
The new recommendations are part of an overall shift in focus for the Biden administration, which is moving from an infection containment approach to mitigating severe illness and death linked to COVID-19, the AP has reported.
A growing number of states have already eased mask guidance -- or removed rules entirely -- amid the rapid decline of omicron variant-linked new infections and continuous slowing of hospitalization and death rates connected to COVID.
Schools are one place in New York where the mandates have lingered, even as New Jersey looks to lift its indoor school mask rules early next month. Gov. Kathy Hochul has said she would consider doing the same statewide in New York, assuming kids return to class after the mid-winter break with no new severe COVID spikes, though individual districts have always been permitted to implement stricter rules.
"We are evaluating the CDC's new guidance, and we will update New Yorkers on potential changes as we work through the details and coordinate with all stakeholders in our school communities across our state," the governor said in reaction to the new guidance.
It has been said that New York City would likely keep its indoor mask mandate through the April break, at least, though much could change in the next two weeks.