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Westchester County Issues Student Mask Mandate As COVID-19 Cases Climb

Westchester County COVID-19 cases, October 19, 2020
Courtesy of the Office of Westchester County Executive George Latimer
Westchester County COVID-19 cases, October 19, 2020

Westchester County officials will be taking steps to curb a recent increase in COVID-19 cases. There will be a mask mandate for students, and the county executive is looking at other options should the uptick continue.

Democratic Westchester County Executive George Latimer delivered his weekly briefing Monday saying the news is not good.

“Right now, we now have 1,033 active cases. That number is dramatically larger than we’ve been reporting in past weeks. It was a week ago that we indicated that there was a significant jump when we reached 868 active cases one week ago,” says Latimer. “The week before that, were at 678 cases and we saw the line starting to point up, but breaking 1,000, which we did on Sunday, and now 1,033 cases, the last time we had 1,000-plus cases was on Saturday, June the 6.”

The county had 58 hospitalizations as of Friday, up from 22 a few weeks ago.

“At 58 people hospitalized, we haven’t hit that number since Thursday, July 9,” says Latimer.

Latimer says seven people died from COVID-19 in the last week.

“Now in the last two weeks, we’ve lost 12 individuals. From Sunday, July 19 until Sunday, September 13 — that’s a stretch of almost two months — we lost 12 people,” Latimer says. “So we lost 12 people in about two months; we have now lost 12 people in two weeks.”

With the latest statistics, Latimer says the county is taking action.

“What is within the authority of the Westchester County Health Commissioner Dr. Sherlita Amler, she will be doing, which is to issue an order for masks to be worn at all schools in Westchester County,” Latimer says.

He says masks can be removed only during mask breaks, when eating or during vigorous activity.

“We now are going to institute a mandate that students, whenever they are in an in-class situation, must wear a mask. And this applies to public schools, parochial school, private schools, charter schools, all across the board,” Latimer says. “And the leadership of the various school districts, we’ve consulted with them. We have heard support for this mask proposal. It is not unique. Orange County and Rockland County have both imposed it more recently.”

Masks also must be worn on school buses.

“We have not attached any penalties to school districts for lack of enforcement,” Latimer says. “We will see what the level of enforcement is, if we can accomplish that across the board.”

Latimer is considering restrictions elsewhere.

“We are going to be making an assessment of youth sports, in all of its manifestations. The Westchester County Health Department will do that,” Latimer says. “We are not prepared to shut down youth sports, but we’re going to be looking at them to assess the risks and how they’re being run.”

He says the concern is more with leagues than with school sports that are permitted and municipal sports. Latimer says the county health commissioner could issue orders in this area. In addition, Latimer says 50 percent of the county workforce will work remotely by October 26. And he has a request for businesses.

“We are encouraging all local businesses, all local entities, to make a similar assessment — we cannot mandate this — but we think that every business should make an assessment and consider how much of their workforce can return to working remote at this time,” Latimer says.

Latimer says the steps being taken are just the beginning, unless the numbers substantially reverse course. He address the outbreak at Iona College in New Rochelle, which now has 87 active cases.

“The Iona outbreak is significant but, when we’re looking at growth that’s now been steady over the last couple of weeks, it doesn’t account for what the overall jump has been,” says Latimer.

He says, in general, throughout the county, there have been a number of social gatherings where people flout social distancing and mask wearing guidelines.

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