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Masks come off in New York’s public schools, but many colleges keep mandates

A discarded face mask.
Dave Lucas
A discarded face mask.

New York lifted the statewide mask requirement for schools on Wednesday. But many colleges are keeping mask mandates in place for now.

For the first time in almost two years, New Yorkers can go without face masks if they so desire, with statewide mandates over for public indoor spaces and public schools.

Marcia White is president of the private College of St. Rose in Albany.

"The CDC and Governor Kathy Hochul have recently stated that we may be turning an important page in the pandemic," White said. "Well, here at Saint Rose, we're pleased to help turn that page for the pandemic as well. We are announcing that effective March 7th, the masks will no longer be required to be worn indoors in Saint Rose buildings. This means that when students and faculty began classes returning from mid break, masks will no longer be required in classes, events or meetings. Of course, they may still wear masks in classrooms or anywhere on campus if they so desire. Wearing a mask continues to an acquired part of our quarantine process, but in addition to that our rates have remained very low. When we tested everyone returning to campus in January we had the lowest positivity rate in the region."

Private Siena College in Loudonville has not required masks on campus this academic year for fully vaccinated students and employees. Schenectady's Union College will no longer require masks on the private campus after winter term classes end March 12th.

On Thursday, the University at Albany announced masks will be required in classes through March 28.

Alexis Johns is a junior at UAlbany majoring in English and journalism.

“I'm kind of upset how the whole mask thing has become political, I guess," SAID jOHNS. "And that's really apparent on campus, if you can see people will give you maybe a dirty look, if you're not wearing one and just assume you're on a different political side than them. And I don't think that should have ever happened. I think that this whole thing started with our health and well-being. And it's sad to see that it's gotten so political. What I feel is no, I don't think we should have mask mandates anymore. And I just think at this stage that we're at now, we see cases are very low. And the key word is cases, there no longer is a surplus of deaths happening. And I think that's a big thing, probably because majority are vaccinated, and I think our campus has, I'm not exactly sure, on the exact number, it might be 98, it's very high 90s, I'm gonna say, percentage of vaccination rates, a lot of people have their booster. We were required to get it. If not, you have to be tested weekly. So I just think the campus has done everything they can to be safe. And I think the fact that the entire state itself has removed the mask mandate, I think it's time that our campus lifts it as well."

Meanwhile, the SUNY system has posted updated guidance on its websiteaimed at establishing a path for campuses to begin lifting the mask requirement in consultation with their public health departments.

United University Professions Union President Fred Kowal, who is a WAMC commentator, says safety should be maintained across SUNY's 64 campusses.

"So it's a very fluid situation is very different from campus to campus," Kowal said. "We are hearing of some faculty members who are a little concerned about being in classrooms without students masked. On the other hand, we're also hearing from faculty members who welcome the change with the high the high rates of vaccinations on SUNY campuses, they feel OK with the change. We believe most importantly is that faculty should be allowed to require a mask-wearing in their classes month. Should they so choose and also the professional staff we represent working in offices where they encounter the public the situation should be the same. But again, what we have right now is a changing situation, very dynamic, across different campuses."

Mask mandates remain in place at Cornell and RPI.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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