Governor Kathy Hochul announced on Sunday that the state requirement for children in school and child care to wear masks indoors would end on March 2. The New York State Department of Health issued the guidelines to be adhered to on Tuesday night.
Hochul likened the Covid-19 pandemic to a “war that has been unfolding for the last two years, where our country has been under siege by this unseen assailant – one that has taken thousands of lives of Americans and New Yorkers.”
In defense of the mask requirement so far, Hochul said that when she was sworn into office six months ago, her priority was to get children back to school, but that wearing masks was the best guarantee for children’s safety, especially since no pediatric vaccine was available until November.
Using a series of large diagrams, Hochul demonstrated her use of positivity rates, hospitalizations, CDC guidance, and consultations with “the educational community, whose voices needed to be heard – our commissioner of education, our parents, our PTAs, our school superintendents, our school administrators, and our school unions,” in the process of deciding whether to require masks.
Oyster Bay-East Norwich Central School District Superintendent Dr. Francesco Ianni said the district will be following the new guidelines.
“Parents are a little split with some for masking,” Ianni said. “We tell them if they are overly concerned they can wear masks. But I think overall people are at the point where they want to get rid of the masks.”
Covid infection rate numbers have been going down, Ianni added, although it did go up minimally after the holidays.
The first day of school without masks went well, Laurie Kowalsky, said. “Ten percent of the kids and teachers wore masks,” the president of OBEN’s Board of Education said. “We don’t want any bullying in school for the kids and teachers who want to wear masks.”
The guidelines issued by the health department include not only a departure from wearing masks in school but also on school buses.
From a high of a seven-day average of 14,167 positive pediatric Covid cases as of Jan. 10, with 38 children hospitalized, the numbers have dropped steadily for 48 days. Now, across the state, the seven-day average of pediatric cases is 226, and only 7 children are hospitalized with Covid.
The improved statistics were confirmed on Feb. 25 by a CDC report that broke down the number of Covid cases in New York by county.
“They've come up with a calculation on what constitutes a low, medium, or high community risk level,” Hochul said, “and 70 percent of our population now lives in an area considered low to medium risk.”
Jasmine Contois, of Locust Valley, has two children attending the Locust Valley Central School District. She was adamantly pro-mask in September but feels differently now.
“My kids are vaccinated so I feel like I have a layer of protection now,” she said. “I feel like if we could have just gone to April 1 and then lifted the masks mandate I’d feel more comfortable. We just got back from a break and when the kids came back from break before there was a big hike.”
Her children, Contois said, will continue to wear masks.
Eva Frosch, of Oyster Bay, has two children, ages 13, and 16. “We all feel confident that it’s OK to not wear masks and both of my children are triple vaccinated, which makes me feel comfortable,” she said. “I feel it’s early though to stop wearing them. I would have been OK wearing masks longer.”
Hochul said that communities designated higher risk had the option to enact more restrictive measures, but the state would not enforce a mask requirement in those areas.
In response to Hochul’s announcement, County Executive Bruce Blakeman said, “While I believe the governor’s decision to end her unconstitutional mandate is too little too late, I am happy that parents will soon have the power to decide what is best for their kids, and our students will finally be able to return to normal and see the smiling faces of their friends again.”
Andy Pallotta, president of New York State United Teachers, issued a statement saying, "We welcome this step toward normalcy. The governor is striking the right balance by empowering local officials to use data to determine if and when the mitigation strategies need to change in their areas. As the guidance changes, one thing must remain constant: It's essential that districts work closely with educators to ensure there is confidence in their health and safety plans."