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New York's school mask mandate to end Wednesday

Election 2022 New York
Seth Wenig
Associated Press
New York Governor Kathy Hochul greets supporters during the New York State Democratic Convention in New York, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul said the statewide school mask mandate will end on Wednesday. Hochul, who made the announcement on Sunday, one day before the state’s school children were due to return to classrooms after the winter break, said she based her decision on dramatically lower COVID-19 infection rates and new guidance from the CDC.

Hochul originally said that she would keep the school mask mandate in place until at least a week after children return from winter break to make sure there was no new spread of infection before she made a final decision on requiring masks in classrooms. A recent Siena College poll found that 58% of the public supported that decision.

But the governor, in a hastily arranged news conference on Sunday, said she decided to end the mask mandate early. She said infection rates have plummeted, to an average of 1.7% over the past seven days, while vaccination rates continue to rise. Pediatric hospitalizations from the virus are also down, with seven children in the hospital statewide. Also, Hochul said the CDC recommended Friday that 70% of Americans live in areas safe enough to no longer have to wear masks.

“Today we are going to be announcing that we'll be lifting the statewide mask requirement in schools, and that'll be effective this Wednesday, March 2,” the governor said. “The day has come. “

Hochul said regular testing of students will continue. And she said counties that continue to have higher transmission rates are free to impose local mask mandates.

New York lifted the mask mandates for adults earlier this month. Face coverings are still required at health care facilities, including nursing homes and at prisons and homeless shelters. The federal government is still requiring masks for travel on airplanes, buses and trains.

The governor’s decision comes one day before the state’s republicans are due to meet at their nominating convention on Long Island, where intense criticism of the Democratic governor’s COVID related mandates was expected.

Republican state lawmakers, who had urged Hochul to end the mandate, said they are pleased with the governor’s decision, but said it should have been done much earlier.

In a statement, GOP Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt, said that the “unmasking” of school children is a “long overdue victory.”

New York City Mayor Eric Adams is also acting to end pandemic-related mandates. Adams said he’s discontinuing the proof of vaccine mandate requirement to enter restaurants and entertainment venues as of March 7. And he said he’ll end the city’s school mask requirement next Monday, as well.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.