Gov. Kathy Hochul has announced that New York's mask mandate for schools will be lifted, effective March 2.
The new rules effective Wednesday apply to children 2 years and older in childcare facilities. New York state has 2.7 million schoolchildren, including about 1 million in New York City.
Hochul touted strong vaccination rates, and declining trends in new COVID cases, the state’s seven-day average positivity rate and hospitalizations, along with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On Friday, the Biden administration significantly loosened mask-wearing guidelines to protect against COVID-19 transmission in local communities, meaning most Americans will no longer be advised to wear masks in indoor public settings.
Once the mandate is lifted, Hochul said it would be up to local districts to decide their own masking rules.
New York City will lift its indoor mask mandate for public school students and “Key to NYC" requirements on Monday, March 7 if the five boroughs continue to see a “low level” of COVID-19 risk, Mayor Eric Adams announced Sunday.
Adams is expected to formally announce the news on Friday, he said in a press release.
"If we see no unforeseen spikes and our numbers continue to show a low level of risk, New York City will remove the indoor mask mandate for public school children, effective next Monday, March 7," Adams said. "Our schools have been among the safest places for our children since the beginning of the pandemic, and we will continue to make the proper public health decisions to keep our kids safe, including making masks available for any child or school staff member who wishes to continue wearing them."
“There are some counties in the state of New York where they have a higher rate of transmission,” Hochul said. “We will allow them the flexibility to determine what is best for your county. We would encourage them to take a look at this and follow the CDC, but this would no longer be a mandate.”
Hochul said the state will continue to distribute masks and COVID testing kits, perform COVID tests and vaccinations for students, along with the development of a waste water surveillance system to monitor any potential spike in cases, even if people are not getting tested for COVID-19 as much.
Earlier this month, Hochul let a broad mask mandate for most indoor settings expire, but said the schools requirement would remain in place. She had promised to revisit the schools question by the first week of March. On Feb. 15, Hochul said she was monitoring a monitor a variety of factors, including vaccination rates for children age 5 and older, infection rates and hospitalizations and the possibility of any emerging COVID-19 variants.
The broad mask mandate was implemented during a COVID-19 surge fueled by the omicron variant in December.
A Siena College poll released last Tuesday found that a majority of New Yorkers wanted the state to wait for more information before the Hochul administration lifted a mandate on mask-wearing in schools statewide.
According to data from the CDC cited by the governor on Saturday, 81.5% of New Yorkers between the ages of 12-17 have received at least one vaccine dose and 71.4% have completed the vaccine series. As of Saturday, the state’s COVID-19 positivity rate is 1.88%.
"We're at our lowest point in pediatric cases since July of 2021, and that was before the school year started," Hochul said. "So this has been our trend over the school year. So as you can all see looking at the data and the evidence that we are in a much much better place."
Hochul said that anyone who wishes to continue to wear a mask should feel free to do so, without the fear of harassment.
“We will not have any tolerance for people who are questioning someone’s own personal decision to do what they want,” Hochul said. “If people want to continue wearing masks, they will be allowed to continue to wear masks.”
Masks will still be required in state-regulated health care settings and nursing homes, correctional facilities, homeless and domestic violence shelters, and airports, buses and trains stations.
"Thanks to the hard work of New Yorkers, today we are able to lift the statewide mask requirement for schools," State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said in a statement. "As Governor Hochul said, we will remain vigilant as New York moves forward, and our team at the Department of Health will continue to monitor the data and advance early warning monitoring systems like wastewater surveillance. We continue to urge all New Yorkers to get vaccinated and get boosted, and we will work with our partners in education statewide to ensure our schools, teachers, and students have the support they need to keep our classrooms healthy and safe."
Also issuing a statement was Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers: