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New York plans to relax mask guidelines for schools

Jun 4, 2021

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New York state is getting ready to relax mask rules in schools.

News about the planned changes coming Monday were contained in a letter from State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker to the head of the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

Zucker says the state is striving for consistency between settings that have similar risk levels and populations.

He notes that the current CDC guidance for K-12 schools on masks has no distinction between mask wearing for indoors versus outdoor activities and it does not address vaccinated individuals.

But Zucker says current CDC guidance for youth camps says that people who are fully vaccinated don't need to wear masks either indoors or outdoors.

Zucker says since many camps take place on school grounds, the state will try and align its school and camp mask guidance, and that means that both indoors and outdoors, students, campers and staff who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks.

He does say schools and camps may choose to implement stricter standards and he asks the CDC leader that if there’s any data or science she is aware of that contradicts moving forward with this approach to let him know.

The state plans to make the new guidance effective Monday, June 7.

Meanwhile, the CDC told The Associated Press that it recommends schools and childcare facilities continue to follow COVID-19 prevention strategies, such as consistent indoors mask use, for the rest of the 2020-2021 school year.

“Current evidence demonstrates that consistent mask use indoors among people two and older who are not fully vaccinated, along with other preventive strategies, is key to reducing the spread of COVID-19,” Public Affairs Specialist Jade Fulce said in an email.

“The recommendation to continue with these prevention strategies is based on youth aged 12-15 not being able to be fully vaccinated before the end of the current school year and youth under 12 not yet being eligible for vaccinations,” she added. “Additionally, schools need time to make systems and policy adjustments.”

New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta issued the following statement  on the state Department of Health’s planned changes to mask guidance for K–12 schools: 

 “Announcing on a Friday afternoon that masks will now be optional for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people in schools starting Monday — with only three weeks remaining in the school year — is whiplash-inducing news. Short of any additional guidance from the state or the CDC before Monday, we implore school districts to closely evaluate local conditions and connect with their educators and parents to decide the best course of action for protecting their school community.” 

The Associated Press contributed to this story.