In lieu of a statewide mandatory mask or face covering order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo or the New York State Department of Health, the union representing teachers across the state has turned their cry to local jurisdictions to enact such a policy.
In the "absence of statewide action," the union is requesting support from local governments, at the county, level to step in and create mandatory mask orders for school districts. The move comes one day after Orange County's health commissioner ordered the use face coverings at all public and private schools in the district, as well as aboard transportation services to and from school buildings.
"While some school districts are doing the right thing and requiring masks at all times, we still are seeing others who refuse to take this basic step to protect the health of students, staff and families," New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta said in a release.
The union issued a letter to the state last week asking for a statewide mask order in schools "except for appropriate break periods and in cases of medical accommodation."
Daily Percentage of Positive Tests by New York Region
Gov. Andrew Cuomo breaks the state into 10 regions for testing purposes and tracks positivity rates to identify potential hotspots. Here's the latest tracking data by region and for the five boroughs. For the latest county-level results statewide, click here
At several press briefings in recent weeks, Cuomo has offered support for mandatory mask use in schools but stopped short of delivering such a policy mandate from his office.
"Local school districts don't need me to say when the children should wear masks. A local school district can decide on a policy and on that application," Cuomo has said.
"Reason for flexibility is because when you have a statewide rule you have no exceptions. If you have a situation with outdoor learning and students sitting 15 feet away, is it really necessary to wear a mask during instruction? It wouldn't make sense," he added. "That's why we can strongly recommend and have minimum standard but there are differences between all the school districts throughout the state."
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
The state's Department of Health does recommend mask use at all times in schools, but only requires the practice when "individuals cannot maintain appropriate social distancing."
"However, if face coverings are to be worn by all individuals at all times, Responsible Parties should allow students to remove their face covering during meals, instruction, and for short breaks so long as they maintain appropriate social distance," the guidance adds.
Starting Wednesday, Sept. 8, the Department of Health will display and update daily a dashboard on confirmed coronavirus tests across schools. Each district must provide the state daily data on the number of people who have tested positive for the virus.