Gov. Kathy Hochul lifted the mask mandate in schools as of Wednesday, March 2, but local county health departments could keep them in place if infection rates dictate.
Following the announcement on Sunday, Feb. 27, school districts across the Capital District announced they would no longer require masks for students, faculty staff and visitors.
“… starting Wednesday, students, faculty, school staff and visitors will no longer be required to wear face coverings or masks in any of our school buildings or on school buses,” said South Colonie Superintendent David Perry in a statement on the district website. “Students, faculty, staff and visitors to our schools are welcome to continue wearing masks but it will no longer be required.”
Across town at North Colonie, Superintendent Joseph Corr said the district anticipates “further guidance from the state regarding this transition.”
“As we have done throughout this pandemic we will continue to follow the guidance provided to us,” he said in a statement on the district website. “Until Wednesday, March 2, 2022, the mask mandate remains in effect for students and staff in school buildings and on school buses.”
In Bethlehem, the district’s Reopening Task Force will meet on Tuesday, March 1 “to discuss the implications” of Hochul’s announcement.
“As indicated by Gov. Hochul, there may also be additional guidance for schools at the county level,” according to a statement on the district website. “As school resumes following mid-winter break, students and staff should continue mask use indoors and on school transportation until more information is provided following Tuesday’s meeting.”
At the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk School District, as of Wednesday, masks will no longer be required.
“Students, staff, and visitors will no longer be required to wear face coverings or masks in any of our school buildings or on our school buses,” said RCS Superintendent Brian Bailey in a statement. “All students, staff, and visitors may continue to wear a mask if they prefer to. Our expectation is that our RCS school community will foster a learning environment where each individual’s masking choice is respected once the mandate is lifted.”
He said other COVID-19 protocols will remain in place like social distancing in classrooms and at lunch and quarantine practices for students and staff who test positive.
In Voorheesville, as of Wednesday, masks are optional for all students, staff and visitors to any school buildings or busses, said Superintendent Frank Macri in a statement on the district website.
“Mask wearing will continue to be optional. Students and staff who wear masks may do so without ridicule or criticism. It is vital that we respect one another’s decisions and continue to be cautious about close contact,” he said. “Any person on campus may wear a mask at any time. The Board of Education will be meeting on Monday, March 7. At that meeting, they will discuss and assess the local implications going forward and any needed changes to the tiered mitigation plan.”
Likewise, the Guilderland School District will no longer require masks as of Wedensday.
Although masks will no longer be required in schools effective Wednesday, March 2, it is highly recommended that those who are immunocompromised or at high risk for serious illness continue to wear masks,” said Superintendent Marie Wiles in a statement. “In addition, students and staff always have the option to wear a mask, if they feel more comfortable doing so. We recognize this is a personal choice and expect such decisions will be met with mutual respect by all.”
On Feb. 10, Hochul lifted the mandate for businesses and other indoor public places but kept the mandate in place for schools through the winter break pending an analysis of data when students returned.
According to the governor, the 1,671 seven-day average of new cases as of Friday, Feb. 26 was lower than prior to when the omicron variant took hold at the end of 2021. At its peak on Jan. 7, the seven-day average of new cases was 90,132.
The omicron variant has proven to be more contagious than its predecessor, Delta, and the COVID-19 virus that swept the globe in 2020. But, it was also less lethal and, in most instances, presented less severe symptoms.
Other data Hochul used to justify lifting the mandate was the positivity rate, which on Jan. 2 was 23.2 percent compared to 1.7 percent on Feb. 26. The number hospitalized has also decreased dramatically over the past two months, from a high of 12,671 on Jan. 11 to 1,911 on Feb. 26.
At the same time, the number of those vaccinated continues to increase. As of Feb. 28, more than 95 percent of New Yorkers over 18 years old have received at least the first dose and 85.5 percent are fully vaccinated. Of those 12 to 17 years old, 81.5 percent have gotten at least one shot and 71.4 percent are full vaccinated. Nearly 41 percent of those 5 to 11 years old got the first dose and 33.3 percent are fully vaccinated.
“With more New Yorkers getting vaccinated, and the steady decline over the past several weeks in cases and hospitalizations from Omicron, we are now entering a new phase of the pandemic. Because New Yorkers have stepped up, we can confidently remove the statewide mask requirement in our schools,” Hochul said. “This is a huge step forward for our kids and communities and I am grateful to the students, educators and parents for their dedication to keeping us all safe—we’ve reached this milestone because of your hard work.”
Her decision to lift the mask mandate for all public spaces but keep it in place for schools was met with ridicule in come circles — students took masks off when they went home or to a store but were forced to put them on when they went to school — and there are still lawsuits pending.
“We welcome this step toward normalcy. The governor is striking the right balance by empowering local officials to use data to determine if and when the mitigation strategies need to change in their areas,” said New York State United Teachers union President Andy Pallotta. “As the guidance changes, one thing must remain constant: It’s essential that districts work closely with educators to ensure there is confidence in their health and safety plans.”
The mandate remains in place for state regulated health care facilities, adult care facilities and nursing homes as well as correctional facilities, homeless shelters and transportation hubs.