Saying “the day has come,” Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Sunday that the state Covid-19 mask mandate for schools will end Wednesday.
She cited the steep decline in new cases, including among teens and children, as the reason to lift the requirement.
She also thanked teachers, school boards, administrators, staff and children for their cooperation in stemming the spread of the disease.
“We stood together as a state,” she said. “A lot of people were questioning what we were doing. But we knew, if we stick with the experts ,and let that be our guide and not let criticism and politics intervene in this decision-making, we’ll end up in the right place.”
“We were being clear eyed and listening to the data,” she said, pointing to several charts showing the decline in infections and hospitalizations. “The whole seven-day positivity rate is going down. And for February 26, it is 1.7%, down from 23% on January 2nd.”
In areas with higher rates of infection, county officials will be able to require masks, she said.
Hochul said the state decided to wait until Wednesday to implement the change instead of Monday to give educators and families coming back from winter break the time to prepare for any questions about the new policy.
She also said that the state would not tolerate harassment or bullying of parents or children on whether they choose to wear a mask or not.
The state will continue distributing masks and test kits..
Update: Andy Pallotta, president of New York State United Teachers, said, “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. 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.”
In a message to district families sent Sunday night, Dr. Vito D’Elia, superintendent of the South Huntington school district, wrote about Hochul’s decision and added, “We thank you for your continued patience and understanding as we have consistently interpreted and adopted the changes in state policies as it relates to COVID-19. Please know that we will continue to endeavor to follow the information and guidance provided by the NYSDOH, providing you with the most up-to-date information regarding any changes as they are being made.”
Huntington superintendent James W. Polansky, in a message that outlined Hochul’s decision to parents, wrote that “masking will be optional for students, staff and visitors inside of Huntington schools. It is important for all to recognize that this represents an individual (e.g., parent/guardian) choice and that every such choice should be respected. Bullying or harassment related to wearing or not wearing masks will not be tolerated.”
Dr. Eve Krief, a pediatrician and member of the executive council Long Island, Queens, Brooklyn chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said, “While this is welcome news reflecting the declining cases across the region, we need to be cognizant that there may be children, teachers or staff who are immunocompromised or who have immunocompromised or elderly household members they need to protect. We should encourage a culture of acceptance, understanding and support in our schools for those who need or want to wear masks.”
“Pediatricians also encourage vaccination of all eligible children to protect them against serious disease and hospitalization should they get infected. Currently only 24% of children 5-11 years old in Suffolk County are fully vaccinated against Covid leaving them susceptible to the rare but serious consequences the virus can have on their health.”