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Officials in Putnam County last week celebrated the March 2 end to the mask mandate for students and staff in K-12 schools and daycare facilities.
“Make no mistake, our voices were heard in Albany,” County Executive MaryEllen Odell said. “Putnam County parents and community members who stood together and demanded that state leaders adopt a common-sense response to COVID have prevailed. Now we, and our children, can breathe freely again.”
Citing statistics that showed the COVID infections declined by 98% and hospitalizations by 83% since the peak of the Omicron surge, Gov. Kathy Hochul lifted the state indoor mask mandate for K-12 schools and daycare centers as of March 2. School districts and daycare centers still have the option of requiring masks on their own, but all public school districts in Putnam County have said they are planning to make mask-wearing optional.
As of March 2, masking on school buses will no longer be required by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), which changed its guidance last week and recommended that most Americans don’t need to wear masks in public indoor spaces, including schools. The CDC specified that in regions where caseloads, hospitalizations and risk factors are high, masks should still be worn indoors.
Putnam County, which currently has three people hospitalized with COVID, was on the CDC list of low-risk counties.
“This is a data-driven decision based on evaluation of numerous indicators showing we are currently in a period of decreased risk,” said Putnam Health Commissioner Michael J. Nesheiwat, MD.
There is one circumstance where masking will be required in school. Students and staff exposed to COVID are still required to isolate for five days. On days six through 10, they can return to school but must wear a mask.
“This return to normal is good for everyone,” said Neal Sullivan, Chair of the Putnam County Legislature. “We want parents to have the freedom to choose what is right for their child. Those who are immune-compromised, have vulnerable relatives at home or who simply feel more comfortable masked, may continue to wear masks in schools. We want them to feel free to do that as well.”
Odell said as masking decreases residents should still use precaution as new variants of COVID could soon return.
“Vaccination, testing, social distancing and staying home when sick is still important measures we can take to protect our own health,” Odell said. “COVID doesn’t seem to be going away, but we can be smart about the way we live with it.”
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