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New York's school mask mandate to end Wednesday

Gov. Hochul speaking at a podium
Mike Groll
Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul gives a COVID-19 briefing at the state Capitol on February 27, 2022

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul says the statewide school mask mandate will end on Wednesday. Hochul, who made the announcement on Sunday, one day before the state’s school children were due to return to classrooms after the winter break, says she based her decision on dramatically lower COVID-19 infection rates and new guidance from the CDC.

Hochul originally said that she would keep the school mask mandate in place until at least a week after children return from winter break, to make sure there was no new spread of infection before she made a final decision on requiring masks in classrooms. A recent Siena College poll found that 58% of the public supported that decision.

But the governor, in a hastily arranged news conference on Sunday, said she decided to end the mask mandate early. She says infection rates have plummeted, to an average of 1.7% over the past seven days, while vaccination rates continue to rise. Pediatric hospitalizations from the virus are also down, with 7 children in the hospital statewide. Also, Hochul noted that the CDC recommended Friday that 70% of Americans live in areas safe enough to no longer have to wear masks.

“Today we are going to be announcing that we'll be lifting the statewide mask requirement in schools, and that'll be effective this Wednesday, March 2,” the governor said. “The day has come. “

Hochul said regular student testing will continue. And, counties that continue to have higher transmission rates are free to impose local mask mandates.

New York lifted the mask mandates for adults earlier this month. Face coverings are still required at health care facilities, including hospitals and nursing homes, and at prisons and homeless shelters. The federal government is still requiring masks for travel on airplanes, buses and trains.

The governor’s decision came one day before the state’s Republicans are due to meet at their nominating convention on Long Island, where intense criticism of the Democratic governor’s COVID related mandates was expected.

Republican state lawmakers, who had urged Hochul to end the mandate, said they are pleased with the governor’s decision, but that it should have been done much earlier.

In a statement, GOP Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt said the “unmasking” of school children is a “long overdue victory.”

Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and county Health Commissioner, Dr. Michael Mendoza, issued a statement on Sunday calling Hochul's move "an appropriate and welcome decision," that is based on CDC data showing most of the state and Monroe County no longer have a high coronavirus transmission rate. They also noted that parents can decide if their children should still mask.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams is also acting to end pandemic related mandates. Adams said he’s discontinuing the proof of vaccine mandate requirement to enter restaurants and entertainment venues, as of March 7. And he said he’ll end the city’s school mask requirement next Monday as well.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.