ALBANY – Not 12 hours after being sworn in as governor of New York, Kathy Hochul made her first executive decision — directing the Health Department to require anyone entering a public school building to wear a mask.
Also, all school personnel including teachers will have to get vaccinated but can opt out by submitting to weekly testing for COVID-19, “at least for now.”
“None of us want to see a rerun of last year’s horrors with COVID-19. Therefore we will take proactive steps to prevent that from happening,” she said after a ceremonial swearing in. “New York is launching a Back to School COVID-19 testing program to make testing for students and staff widely available and convenient. Later this week I will announce a series of school-related policies that will be concise and consistent, giving the school districts what they have been asking for.”
Hochul was officially sworn in at midnight on Monday, Aug. 23, as the state’s 57th governor to replace Andrew Cuomo, who resigned in disgrace after an attorney general’s report validated sexual harassment complaints filed by 11 women.
Prior to his untimely departure, the Cuomo administration was indecisive regarding any guidance for schools as the Delta variant of COVID-19 is causing numbers to increase across the board. The lack of solid direction led to heated debates within some districts about whether or not to require students wear masks while in school. The universal protocol issued by Hochul will take the decision out of the hands of local districts.
Fall athletic teams have begun practice and academic classes will start early next month.
“Gov. Kathy Hochul brings a breath of fresh air to Albany, and she already is taking decisive action to bolster health and safety in our schools,” said New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta. “We support universal mask wearing as part of a layered mitigation strategy that also includes robust COVID testing, contract tracing, proper ventilation and other strategies recommended by public health experts.”
He also said the teacher’s union is in favor of allowing teachers the choice of getting vaccinated.
“It’s critical that educators continue to have a voice in the implementation of vaccine requirements and other COVID policies at the local level,” he said.