New York state will no longer mandate masks in K-12 schools and camps statewide beginning on June 7, with the decision on whether to keep the requirement in place to be left to local districts, barring any guidance otherwise from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But New York City public schools—the largest school system in the United States—will continue to require the face coverings.
In a letter (pdf) to the CDC, New York State Commissioner of Health Howard Zucker said that the state will update its school and camp mask guidance.
“If there is any data or science that you are aware of that contradicts moving forward with this approach, please let me know as soon as possible. We plan to make this guidance effective on Monday, June 7,” Zucker wrote to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Wallensky.
The new guidance states that those who are fully vaccinated don’t need to wear masks in both indoor and outdoor settings. For people who aren’t vaccinated, or not fully vaccinated, masks aren’t required for outdoor settings, though they’re “encouraged” for “higher-risk” circumstances outdoors and “strongly encouraged but not required” for indoor settings. Schools and camps may choose to implement stricter standards, according to Zucker.
The state wanted to align its school and camp mask guidance. Zucker noted the CDC gave different guidance on mask-wearing in the setting of K-12 schools compared to youth camps.
The current CDC guidance for K-12 schools is “consistent” use of masks, with no distinction between mask-wearing for indoor and outdoor activities, and doesn’t address vaccinated individuals, he wrote.
Meanwhile, the current CDC guidance for youth camps is similar to the new guidance that New York state seeks to implement on June 7.
New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) President Andy Pallotta said in a statement that the release of the letter on June 4 is “whiplash-inducing news.” He noted that there are only three weeks remaining in the school year.
“Short of any additional guidance from the state or the CDC before Monday, we implore school districts to closely evaluate local conditions and connect with their educators and parents to decide the best course of action for protecting their school community,” he said.
The CDC hasn’t directly responded to the letter as of June 4.
A CDC spokesperson told The Associated Press that the agency recommends consistent indoor mask use for the rest of the school year.
“Current evidence demonstrates that consistent mask use indoors among people two and older who are not fully vaccinated, along with other preventive strategies, is key to reducing the spread of COVID-19,” CDC spokeswoman Jade Fulce told the AP in an email.
“The recommendation to continue with these prevention strategies is based on youth aged 12-15 not being able to be fully vaccinated before the end of the current school year and youth under 12 not yet being eligible for vaccinations. Additionally, schools need time to make systems and policy adjustments.”