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Some mask rules remain in effect as Gov. Hochul ends school mandate Wednesday

New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaks at Albany NanoTech
Ashley Hupfl
New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaks at Albany NanoTech

New York State Governor Kathy Hochul says the statewide school mask mandate will end on Wednesday. Hochul, who made the announcement on Sunday, 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 seven children in the hospital statewide. Also, Hochul says 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 says regular testing of students will continue. And she says 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 nursing homes and at prisons and homeless shelters. The federal governor is still requiring masks for travel on airplanes, buses and trains.

The governor’s decision comes 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, say they are pleased with the governor’s decision, but say it should have been done much earlier.

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

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

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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