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Hochul Lifts Mask Mandate in Schools Starting Wednesday

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Hours before Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the end of mask mandates in schools starting Wednesday, those against the ongoing requirement rallied in Armonk on Sunday.

Gov. Kathy Hochul is lifting the mask mandate for schools throughout New York effective this Wednesday after statewide COVID-19 cases have fallen to their lowest levels since last summer.

Hochul not only cited the drop-off in cases and hospitalizations as justification for dropping the mandate, but also for the progress in getting children and teenagers vaccinated. It also came after last Friday’s recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control, which stated that masks can be taken off in public indoor places in low to moderate risk areas, which currently covers about 70 percent of the U.S. population.

Despite growing pushback from some groups of parents throughout the state and locally against the requirement, the governor thanked schools, parents and students for their patience until the latest outbreak waned.

“We stand together as a state,” Hochul said. “This is a difficult time. It’s a lot of people questioning what we’re doing but I always had that sense that if we stick with the experts and the data and let that be our guide and not let criticism and politics intervene in our decision making, we’ll end up in the right place.”

Saturday’s statewide infection rate was 1.7 percent and the seven-day rolling average was 1.9 percent, which followed Friday’s infection rate of 1.9 percent. It marked the first days that both numbers were under 2 percent since July 23, 2021, according to the state’s COVID-19 tracker.

On Jan. 2, the positivity rate spiked to 23.2 percent, the peak of the Omicron variant. Five days later there were just over 90,000 new COVID-19 cases in one day. On Saturday, there were 1,617 new cases, a 98 percent drop.

Hochul said the two-day delay for the end of the mask requirement was a result of students in most districts returning Monday from the week-long winter break and providing parents and school officials the time to get updated on the developments.

The dropping of the mandate also includes pre-school children. Families can choose to have their children still wear masks at all grade levels, the governor said.

“This is also up to parents,” Hochul said. “Individual parents have their own knowledge of their own children. They know their own children’s health, they know their tolerance for the mask, they know if they have an underlying health condition, they could want to keep the masks.”

Counties and cities can continue to choose to require students to wear masks if officials believe it is warranted, she said.

Masks will still be required for state-regulated healthcare settings, adult care facilities and nursing homes, correctional facilities, homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters and public transportation. However, Hochul said she has called for a review of case trends in all of those settings, and if risk has diminished, there could be an easing of the mask requirement in those facilities as well.

A couple of hours before Hochul made her announcement, the latest anti-mask rally was held on Main Street in Armonk, where a crowd of close to 150 people held signs and harshly criticized the ongoing requirements.

They were joined by former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who is running again for governor. He called on parents to have their children defy the regulations when schools reopen on Monday. He said students have been forced to wear masks to their own detriment and there has been no proof that they work.

“This should have been over months ago,” Astorino said. “There’s no justification for it, there’s no scientific reason. The studies are unequivocal and the proof is if everyone is masking up, which is what they were supposed to be doing, and yet it didn’t stop the spread (and) neither did the vaccinations, they what are we doing?”

New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta applauded the governor on how she has handled the matter.

“We welcome this step toward normalcy,” Pallotta said. “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.”

On Feb. 9, Hochul had announced that the state would reassess when schools reopen following the Presidents’ week break.

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