New York’s statewide mask requirement in schools will be lifted, effective Wednesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced in a press conference Sunday afternoon.
But Hochul said this change is specific to K-12 schools, not SUNY and CUNY schools. While she seemed to leave room for the possibility of the mask requirement being lifted in public universities and colleges, she would not commit to doing so now.
“We are certainly looking at all these areas,” Hochul said when asked about whether the change applied to CUNY and SUNY schools.
SUNY released revised masking guidance for the spring semester last Tuesday. All campuses will “continue to enforce on-campus universal indoor masking of everyone, regardless of vaccination status, until further notice or until the state modifies any mask requirement,” according to the guidance.
But that guidance also states that individual SUNY schools may “consider lifting the indoor mask mandate by consulting with their local health department and assessing the COVID-19 transmission rate on their campus and in the surrounding community.”
It is unclear if SUNY will change its guidance following the governor’s announcement.
The mask mandate in K-12 schools has long been the subject of fierce debate among students, parents, teachers, administrators and policymakers. A Siena College poll conducted from Feb. 14 to 17 found that 30% of New Yorkers wanted the mask mandate to be lifted — up from single-digits earlier in the pandemic.
States across the country and the region — including New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts — recently moved to end their mask mandates in schools.
“Our top priority has always been keeping kids in school and making sure our classrooms are safe,” Hochul tweeted. “Now, with COVID-19 cases declining by 98% since the Omicron peak and updated @CDCgov guidance in place, we will lift the statewide school mask requirement this coming Wednesday.”
Counties and cities may still require masks in schools, Hochul said. Parents may still choose to send their children to schools in masks.
Masks will still be required in state-regulated healthcare, adult care and nursing facilities, as well as correctional facilities, homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters and on public transportation.
More than 95% of adult New Yorkers have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to CDC vaccination data. That rate is 81.5% among New Yorkers aged 12-17 and 40.7% among New Yorkers aged 5-11.
New York reported a seven-day rolling average of 2,213 COVID-19 cases and 1,999 hospitalizations. Cases have been falling precipitously nationwide in recent weeks, following the Omicron surge in late December and early January.
The CDC updated its COVID-19 guidance on Friday to reflect that healthy Americans living in counties where the virus poses a low or medium threat to hospitals do not have to wear masks indoors. This includes students in schools.
On Feb. 9, Gov. Hochul announced in a briefing that the state would lift part of its indoor mask mandate following a series of long-running legal challenges and mounting frustration from state residents.
Two days later, UB announced in a bulletin that it will “continue to enforce universal indoor masking on campus,” but that SUNY officials are working to develop guidelines that will determine “if and when” to lift masking requirements in the future.
UB currently has an estimated 14-day rolling average of 102 positive COVID-19 cases. The school administered 2,308 tests over the last 14 days, with 52 coming back positive, for a 2.25% positivity rate. The statewide positivity rate over the last 14 days is 2.20%.
Justin Weiss is the managing editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Justin Weiss is The Spectrum's managing editor. In his free time, he can be found hiking, playing baseball or throwing things at his TV when his sports teams aren't winning. His words have appeared in Elite Sports New York and the Long Island Herald. He can be found on Twitter @Jwmlb1.