New York will relax mask rules for kids and adults at schools K through 12 and camps while indoors unless federal health officials provide data that suggests the move is unsafe, Health Commissioner Howard Zucker wrote in a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday.
The change in guidance would take effect in New York on Monday, June 7, Zucker wrote in the letter. Under the state's proposed guidance outlined by Zucker, indoor mask wearing will be strongly encouraged, but not required for students, campers and adults who are not fully vaccinated. Outdoors, masks will not be required.
"Both indoors and outdoors, students, campers and staff who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks," Zucker wrote.
But schools and camps can individually implement stricter standards if they choose, according to the letter.
Zucker added, "If there is any data or science that you are aware of that contradicts moving forward with this approach, please let me know as soon as possible."
The letter comes as state health officials are being urged to rescind mask rules for kids in schools as the warmer weather begins, the COVID positive rate falls in New York and more people are fully vaccinated. Children are considered less likely to spread the coronavirus and mask rules overall in New York have largely subsided, save for some circumstances such as mass transit or health care facilities.
Republican lawmakers cheered the news after several days of calling for maks guidance to be ease for kids.
"This is a decision that should have been in the hands of the local school districts long ago, but unfortunately there is still one person calling all the shots in Albany," said Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt. "Nonetheless, the state’s new guidance that will loosen mask mandates in schools, both indoors and outdoors, is welcome news for students, staff and concerned parents."
But the state's main umbrella labor group representing teachers criticized the development, calling it "whiplash-inducing" with less than a month to go before the school year ends.
"Short of any additional guidance from the state or the CDC before Monday, we implore school districts to closely evaluate local conditions and connect with their educators and parents to decide the best course of action for protecting their school community," New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this week pointed to CDC policy for mask wearing rules for kids in school. But Zucker's letter suggested the rules are complex, inconsistent and are largely vague in some situations.
"The current CDC guidance for K-12 schools recommends a requirement for 'consistent and correct use of well-fitting face masks with proper filtration by all students, teachers, and staff,'" he wrote in the letter. "There is no distinction between mask wearing for indoor versus outdoor activities (except for a vague reference to sports) and it does not address vaccinated individuals."
The letter was also issued as New York's COVID positive rate over the last seven days now stands at 0.56%, part of a two month decline.
"Our numbers are trending in the right direction and much of the economy has been reopened, but we cannot lose sight of our vaccination goals," Cuomo said. "For everyone who hasn't yet been vaccinated, remember that you don't just protect yourself with the shot — you protect family, friends and our state, so make an appointment or walk into a site today."