What to Know
- Gov. Kathy Hochul announced an end to the statewide indoor mask mandate in schools effective Wednesday, March 2
- On the heels of her announcement, Mayor Eric Adams said he plans to lift the order for New York City schools the following Monday
- These decisions follow new CDC guidance essentially saying most people don't need to wear face masks in indoor public settings unless there's a high level of severe disease
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul had a clear message for families and educators on Sunday: It's time to ditch the masks in schools.
Appearing for a rare weekend press conference as many students and teachers prepared to return following mid-winter break, Hochul announced that the statewide order requiring indoor mask use in schools would be lifted on Wednesday.
The governor pointed to the latest advice from the CDC, which essentially says most people don't need to wear face masks in indoor public settings unless there's a high level of severe disease, as well as overwhelming evidence the omicron surge is in the rearview for New York.
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A drop in new cases of COVID-19 by a whopping 98% since omicron's peak in early January, whose highest single-day total skyrocketed past 90,000 cases, is one of several improving metrics that the governor says supports lifting restrictions. She also pointed to a drop in hospitalizations and "strong vaccination rates."
Counties and cities, the governor stipulated, will still have the authority to require masks in schools after the statewide order expires this week. Parents and guardians can also still send their kids to school in masks regardless of the change.
Students and teachers returning from mid-winter break on Monday are guaranteed to have at least two more days of face coverings in the classroom until the statewide order lifts. But all eyes turn to local leaders now to see who will keep local orders in place beyond the state's.
"We will lift the statewide requirement based on all the data that I've just outlined. However, there are some counties in the state that have a higher rate of transmission -- we will allow them the flexibility to determine what's best for their county. We would encourage them to take a look at this and follow the CDC, but this will no longer be a mandate," Hochul explained.
Those waiting to hear word from the largest school district in the nation didn't have to wait long. Hours after the governor's announcement, Mayor Eric Adams announced his intention to end the city's indoor mandate the following Monday, March 7. It comes just days after the city dropped mask requirements for students and staff while outdoors.
Education leaders in the city announced the slight change in masking on Friday, 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.
A statewide teachers union representing more than 600,000 members in New York released a statement Sunday reacting to Hochul's announcement.
“We welcome this step toward normalcy. The governor is striking the right balance by empowering local officials to use data to determine if and when the mitigation strategies need to change in their areas," Andy Pallotta, the union's president, said. "As the guidance changes, one thing must remain constant: It’s essential that districts work closely with educators to ensure there is confidence in their health and safety plans.”
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.
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.