New York to lift indoor mask mandate, but not for kids in schools

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New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday that the state is lifting its statewide “mask-or-vaccine” requirement for indoor businesses effective Thursday, Feb. 10, citing encouraging trends in COVID-19 statistics.

During a press briefing, Hochul pointed to declines in case numbers, hospitalizations, and positivity rates, as well as progress in the number of New Yorkers getting vaccinated and boosted.

“This is trending in a very, very good direction,” Hochul said, declaring that the state is now in “a new phase” of the pandemic.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul holds a COVID-19 briefing at the governor’s office in New York in 2021. 
(Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Despite this, the governor said mask requirements will remain in effect in other locations including schools and childcare centers, healthcare facilities, homeless shelters, and corrections facilities.

Hochul said she spoke to Dr. Anthony Fauci, healthcare leaders, business leaders, school superintendents, and teachers unions before making her decisions.

Hochul acknowledged that the question she faces most is when the school mask mandate will be lifted. She said she has spoken to school principals, superintendents, PTAs, and teacher representatives, and that her priority had been keeping schools open.

The governor said her consultations resulted in the belief that the safest way to do that was to require masks.

Hochul said she will reassess policies after the upcoming break. The state will be providing test kits for parents to use on students during the upcoming break so officials can analyze the results.

FILE – Masked students wait to be taken to their classrooms at Enrique S. Camarena Elementary School, Wednesday, July 21, 2021, in Chula Vista, Calif.
(AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File)

“After the break, after we’ve had kids tested, we are going to make an assessment that first week in March,” Hochul said, stating that any decision will be based on a variety of factors such as case numbers, percent positivity, hospitalizations, and vaccinations.

When asked why high schools, where there are high levels of vaccinations, are being treated differently from businesses, Hochul said students are in “a very concentrated setting” without much freedom of movement, and “adults can make their own decision.”

Hochul’s decision to keep the school mask mandate in place for now follows announcements from other blue states including New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware, that they will be lifting school mask mandates. Connecticut’s statewide mandate will expire Feb. 28 and New Jersey’s will be lifted as of March 7. Delaware’s on March 31.

Asked whether she would consider lifting the school mask mandate on March 7 after students come back from their break and the state looks at test results, Hochul said, “That is a very strong possibility.”

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