Gov. Hochul lets broad mask mandate expire, but not in schools
New York's broader masking rule was put in place as omicron cases began to soar. It was initially set to expire weeks ago but had been extended twice while state officials waited for the wave to subside.
Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday that the state will end a COVID-19 mandate requiring face coverings in most indoor public settings but will keep masking rules in place in schools.
The mandate requiring face coverings in most indoor public settings, like grocery stores, shops and offices, was put in place Dec. 10 as the omicron variant of the virus began infecting huge numbers of New Yorkers. It was set to expire Thursday unless the Democrat’s administration extended it.
Speaking from her office in New York City, Hochul said infection rates have since declined to a level where it is safe to rescind the broad masking order.
“Given the declining cases, given the declining hospitalizations, that is why we feel comfortable to lift this, in effect tomorrow,” Hochul said.
Hochul had been hinting for several days that she would let the mandate lapse as infection rates have fallen.
Long Island Boot Camp owner Charlie Cassara says the mandate should have been taken away sooner.
"...The science and the theory behind it is just ridiculous," Cassara says. "And maybe it was effective, or we thought it was effective back in 2020, but we are two years after the fact, and we just know better now and to have this mask over our face is just a silly point now."
Masks, though, will still be required in many places, including in health care facilities and in schools.
Hochul has said she would like to see vaccination rates for children improve before she does away with that statewide mandate, which has been in place since August.
There was an exception for people who can’t medically tolerate a face covering or mask. Public places or workplaces that required vaccination as a condition of entry were also exempt.
Hochul met Tuesday with school administrators and teacher unions to talk about when and how the state might ease the school masking mandate.
"After the break, after we had kids tested, we are going to make an assessment, that first week in March, based on all I have just described to you and look at that combined picture," Hochul says.
The governor is asking parents to test their children especially if they travel somewhere.
If the child tests positive, then they should report the result to the school and keep their child at home.
Some of the metrics will be from results from test kits being handed out to schools and parents over the winter break, cases per 100,000, hospital and pediatric admissions and vaccination rates.
If the numbers look good on March 4, then Hochul says there is a "strong possibility," that the mandate could be lifted on March 7.
"But I will factor all the data that's gathered during that week," Hochul says. "We will be making that decision based on the most recent data available to us. That is assessing the situation after the children come back from being with their families."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends universal masking in schools, but others think it's a personal decision.
"Some people feel it's necessary to have the masks on," says East Northport resident Raquel Curcio. "I guess it's up to the parent's decision."
Superintendent of Nassau Boards of Cooperative Educational Services Robert Dillon says a decision based on data, not politics, is the right move.
"If the rates are down, let's get rid of the masks, let's move forward," Dillon says. "If the rates go up, we have to start thinking maybe not only masks, but other strategies."
About 5,000 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in hospitals statewide as of Monday. That’s below a peak of nearly 12,700 on Jan. 11, but still double the amount of patients hospitalized Nov. 21.
AP Wire Services were used in this report