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Hochul: Mask Mandate for Businesses to End Thursday; School Requirement Still in Effect

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Gov. Kathy Hochul is ending the mask requirement for businesses on Thursday but not yet for schools.

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday that she is lifting the mask mandate for businesses effective Thursday but will keep the requirement for schools intact until at least early March.

Just over 12 hours before her second extension of the mask mandate was set to expire, Hochul said she will leave decisions to individual businesses and local and county governments whether they want to continue having a more stringent policy.

“I’m looking at data, looking at trends, looking at everything that’s out there but I also want to deal in the reality that we have a very good picture that has been painted over the last few weeks as we are approaching the expiration date for this emergency measure that’s been in place for literally two months,” Hochul explained.

Despite sharp declines in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in recent weeks, the governor said that masks will still be mandated for the time being in certain settings, including schools. It also remains in effect for all state regulated health care facilities, nursing homes, correctional facilities, child care centers, homeless and domestic violence shelters and mass transportation.

On Tuesday, the statewide infection rate was 3.67 percent, and there were 6,041 new positive cases, marking an eye-opening reversal from the 23 percent positivity rate on Jan. 2 and just over 90,000 new cases statewide on Jan. 7, the peak of the Omicron variant.

The governor put the mask mandate in effect on Dec. 13.

Hochul said that she spoke with education leaders across the state on Tuesday and decided that with most school districts across the state observing the traditional week off starting on President’s Day, her administration and public health officials will reassess the matter once students, teachers and staff members return to school on Feb. 28. Many families use that week to go on vacation, she said.

Each student and staff member will receive COVID-19 test kits so they can test themselves the day they return and again three days later. A determination may be made on Friday, Mar. 4 about whether the requirement will remain in place after that, Hochul said.

She mentioned that there’s “a very strong possibility” it could be lifted for the following week or soon after.

“These children, students sit together all day long in close proximity to each other, they go to lunch together, they’re involved in gym together, whereas in the workplace people have the ability for movement,” Hochul said of the difference between schools and businesses. “Kids are in a very restricted setting, and also adults can make their own decisions. Children need adults to look out for their health. This is all about safety and the health of our children.”

On Monday, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced the mask requirement for schools in his state will end on Feb. 28 and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is discontinuing the same mandate a week later. Hochul said her directive is in the same time frame but wll also take into account additional data such as pediatric cases, vaccination rates among school-age children and global trends to help guide her administration early next month.

Groups of parents in districts throughout the area and across the state have been pressuring school officials to relax mask mandates. However, Hochul said Wednesday that unlike other areas of the country that needed to return to remote around the holidays, that was nearly avoided entirely in New York.

“We decided the safest way for the students, the teachers, the administrators and everyone who is part of the school is to have a mask requirement,” Hochul said.

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