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As schools defy state mask mandate, Hochul delays enforcement amid declining COVID-19 infections

Governor Kathy Hochul presents a COVID-19 update in New York.
Kevin P. Coughlin
Office of Governor Kathy Hochul
Governor Kathy Hochul presents a COVID-19 update in New York.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul continues to say schools are the safest place for children.

This comes as some teachers have called for schools to pivot to remote learning, even though infections in unvaccinated students have created staffing shortages.

Hochul said the state will send 10 million COVID-19 test kits to public and private schools for students to take home with them.

“If someone in a classroom tests positive, they don’t all have to isolate for 10 days anymore. Go home the next day, test again,” Hochul said. “Come back if you’re negative; stay home if you’re positive.”

Hochul delivered the update on the state’s response to coronavirus during a visit to Long Island Friday, where the positivity rate has declined 24% over the last week, and more than 75% since the end of December, following a similar decline in most of New York.

She said upstate regions in the Southern Tier, Central New York and the North Country are peaking now, and will see their infection rates drop just like Long Island and the rest of the state.

But Hochul said she will wait to make a decision on whether to extend an indoor mask mandate in businesses and other venues. It expires in February.

“This is still to be taken very seriously. We are not letting our foot off the pedal until we can declare that we are in a place where we can manage without all the restrictions we put in place,” she said.

Hochul expects more schools will abandon mask requirements when the mandate expires, especially in Nassau County.

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, a Republican, signed an executive order this month allowing school boards to decide whether to require masks. Massapequa schools announced Friday that it would allow students and staff to remove masks by mid-February.

Hochul had threatened to withhold state funding if schools defy the state, but if the mandate expires at the end of January, the skirmish between the governor, Nassau County and schools would be moot.

Natalie is a former news fellow with WSHU Public Radio.