Starting Wednesday, the statewide school mask requirement is being lifted. gov. Kathy Hochul made the announcement Sunday while noting a tremendous downward trend in COVID-19 cases.
On Jan. 10, Hochul said New York state had a COVID test positivity rate of 23.2%. As of Saturday, that figure was only 1.7%. Just as significant are the cases for children 18 and under. During that same 51-day stretch of time, pediatric cases fell from 14,167 to 229.
“We’re at our lowest point in pediatric cases,” Hochul said.
While the requirement is being lifted in the schools, mask requirements remain for health-care and adult-care facilities, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters and any public transportation, including bus, train and airplanes.
Hochul’s decision came as the one-week winter break for a number of school districts was coming to an end. Students will be returning to classes today.
“This will no longer be a mandate,” she said, noting individual school districts and parents can continue to choose to use facial coverings if the situation warrants it. “This is a very good news announcement.”
She also issued a “huge thank you” to all districts, administrators, teachers, parents and children for their patience regarding the issue, which was a source of controversy in some districts.
Senate Republican leader Rob Ortt of Lockport called the announcement a “Long overdue victory for kids and parents, educators, and common sense.” He also called for an end to the statewide emergency that has been in place since March 2020.
“It’s time to restore checks and balances, and make sure no governor can do this again,” he said. “We must empower people, not politicians.”
New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta said the decision is a 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,” he said. “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.”
Earlier in the address, Hochul also signed an executive order to join President Joe Biden in economic sanctions on Russia for its attack on Ukraine. “We are no longer going to allow New York state business to be transacting with Russian entities,” she said.
Hochul noted the Empire State is the home to the largest Ukrainian population in the United States. “They’re an important part of the fabric of New York state,” she said “so an attack on their country is truly an attack on all of us.”