Hochul, who unveiled the development during a Feb. 27 press conference, cited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) having eased its masking recommendations in most public settings for the rule change, which goes into effect on March 2. Child care centers also don’t have to impose masking rules.
However, she said individual counties and municipalities can keep their own mandates intact.
“Given the decline in our rates, our hospitalizations, strong vaccination rates, and the CDC guidance, my friends, the day has come,” Hochul said. “Today, we are going to be announcing that [we will] be lifting the statewide mask requirement in schools, and that’ll be effective this Wednesday, March 2.”
Hochul also said New York is at its “lowest point of pediatric cases since July 2021.
“We are in a much, much better place,” she said.
The statewide mask mandate still applies to nursing homes, correctional facilities, health care facilities, and homeless or domestic violence shelters, according to Hochul. Masks will also continue to be required at airports based in New York under federal guidelines.
Two days before Hochul’s announcement, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a briefing with reporters that nearly three-quarters of Americans don’t need to wear masks because they live in areas with low or medium risk from COVID-19, the illness caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
“This updated approach focuses on directing our prevention efforts toward protecting people at high risk for severe ailments and preventing hospitals and health care systems from being overwhelmed,” Walensky said.
New York state Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt issued a statement that he agreed with Hochul’s decision, saying that additional steps should be taken.
“The unmasking of our school children is a long-overdue victory for kids and parents, educators, and common sense,” Ortt said. “It is time to put my resolution up for a vote, end the unnecessary statewide emergency, and end all Albany mandates.”
Critics of mask mandates, including some House Republicans, said forcing children to wear masks for hours at a time in class would ruin their development.
“There is no question, as we enter the third year of this pandemic, CDC’s guidelines and policies have failed to factor in—let alone prioritize—children’s social, emotional, and educational development,” Republican lawmakers wrote in a letter to the CDC in late January.
With mask mandates teenagers and younger children “are experiencing a mental health crisis of historic proportions,” the letter states, citing a recent U.S. Surgeon General warning that “suicide attempts have risen sharply for adolescents.”