Gov. Kathy Hochul ordered the state Department of Health on Tuesday to institute a universal mask requirement this fall in all public and private schools in the state to combat the spread of Covid-19.
The Department of Health will issue the requirement through regulatory action established by the Public Health and Health Planning Council.
Hochul is also reviewing options to pursue options to mandate vaccines for school employees or require weekly testing in the absence of vaccines.
“As Governor, my priorities are now the priorities of the people of New York – and right now that means fighting the Delta variant,” Hochul said. “My number one priority is getting children back to school and protecting the environment so they can learn safely. I am immediately directing the Department of Health to institute universal masking for anyone entering our schools, and we are launching a Back to School COVID-19 testing program to make testing for students and staff widely available and convenient. We are also working to require vaccinations for all school personnel with an option to test out weekly, and we are going to accomplish all of this by working in partnership with all levels of government.”
Hochul is using $335 million in federal funds to launch a new COVID-19 Testing in Schools Program in partnership with local health departments and BOCES in New York State outside of New York City. In addition, New York City has received $225 million directly to initiate a COVID-19 Testing in Schools Program there, for a total of $585 million in federal funding in New York State to support these programs.
Governor Hochul also launched an additional back-to-school COVID-19 testing program in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Rite Aid and BioReference to make testing more widely available for New York State public school students before the start of the new school year.
The state also has available more than 4.3 million child-sized clothed face masks, about 10 million adult-sized clothed face masks and almost 55 million non-surgical face masks to provide to students and teachers in schools across the state.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, “Our highest priority is helping to ensure the health and safety of our students and educators as we work together to combat COVID-19. Since early July, COVID-19 cases in New York have risen 10-fold and 95 percent of sequenced positive cases were confirmed to be Delta variant. Based on incidence and prevalence, our findings demonstrate the necessity of layered prevention strategies, including this mask requirement. While a simple measure of prevention, requiring masks now is crucial for protecting the health of our children and ensuring we can get our students back in their schools this fall.”