New York’s school mask mandate ends Wednesday, remaining COVID restrictions under review

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Governor Kathy Hochul holds a COVID-19 briefing on Sunday. (Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul)

(WMHT-New York NOW) New York’s mask mandate for schools will end on Wednesday, March 2, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Sunday.

Hochul said her decision came after the release of new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday. That guidance included a new risk assessment for counties, categorized between low, medium, and high risk of transmission.

“Seventy percent of the population right now lives in an area that’s considered Low-to-Medium risk, and that’s very positive,” Hochul said. “And in Low-to-Medium, their recommendation is that there is no longer a requirement that masks be worn indoors, and that includes schools in low and medium risk areas.”

“Given the decline in our rates, our hospitalizations, strong vaccination rates, and the CDC guidance, my friends, the day has come,” Hochul said.

Hochul said the three-day delay in lifting the mandate was to allow stakeholders to assess the guidance coming from the state. That guidance still allows counties to mandate masks.

Outside of schools, mask mandates are still in effect in a few areas, including public transportation, healthcare facilities, correctional facilities, and shelters. Hochul said all of those mandates will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

“I’ve called for a review of our cases in these specific settings,” Hochul said. “Within a short time we’ll have an analysis of whether or not, in fact, these are areas that remain vulnerable, or whether or not there’s been a plateauing and then a decline in cases.”

A vaccination mandate is still in place at SUNY and CUNY schools, with the system de-registering unvaccinated students this past fall. As COVID mandates are being relaxed in many areas, Hochul said that mandate is under review.

“We are certainly looking at all of these areas, that’s why we asked for a little bit of time. We’re certainly going to get to a place where that will not be a requirement.” Hochul said.

“But I want to say, if you ask any SUNY or CUNY student who had to learn remotely for a year and a half, they are very happy that we have requirements in place that created the environment, even when the numbers were increasing, that their learning would not be interrupted.”

When that mandate went into effect, SUNY stated that 97% of students had complied. Students who did not comply are permitted to re-enroll once vaccinated.

Hochul did not give a timeline for revisiting the remaining COVID restrictions.