Live Covid-19 updates: mask mandates, guidelines and more

Credit…Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

New York will no longer require students and educators to wear masks in schools starting Wednesday, Governor Kathy Hochul announced Sunday, a milestone in the state’s two-year fight against the coronavirus pandemic and a generally welcome sign that the virus is receding.

“My friends, the day has come,” Ms. Hochul said, reiterating that the decision was made in consultation with public health and education officials. The state’s decision does not supersede those of individual districts and counties, which can still impose mask mandates and other more restrictive measures.

Eric Adams, the mayor of New York, has said for weeks that he is eager to remove virus-related restrictions across the city, including mask mandates in schools, and, with cases at the lowest since For months, it seemed likely that the largest school in the district would follow the state’s lead.

Representatives for the city’s mayor and Department of Education did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In making her announcement, Ms Hochul said the warrant had been a vital aid in tackling Omicron’s surge. “When I think back to what was happening a short time ago, I’m so happy that we put in place a mask requirement for schools back then,” Ms Hochul said. “That’s how we kept those numbers from getting worse.”

The decision came a day later New York announced a statewide seven-day average positivity rate of less than 2% and hospitalizations below 2,000 for the first time since before the Omicron surge. The drop is part of a nationwide decrease in coronavirus cases. Across the state, hospitals that have been forced to limit elective procedures because of the virus have been allowed to resume normal operations.

The schools announcement appears poised to end a bitter and divisive chapter in the state’s pandemic story. Schools have increasingly become battlegrounds in a polarized national conversation between teachers, parents, students and politicians about the appropriate measures to defend against the virus.

Ms. Hochul has been under pressure to overturn state rules on masking in schools since she allowed the companies to expire earlier this month. At the time, the governor promised to revisit the issue of masks in schools after students returned from their winter break in early March, but found herself under increased pressure after being in close proximity states with Democratic governors, including Connecticut, New Jersey and Delaware, have announced plans to lift their terms.

Then, on Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Washington issued new guidelines that said masks and social distancing were only necessary in areas where the risk of infection was high, paving the way for the lifting of the ban. numerous virus prevention measures, including masking in schools.

The announcement came as the agency shifted its risk assessment strategy from one based on case counts to one that weighs stress on hospitals by coronavirus patients, as well as new cases for 100,000 people in the previous week. The guidelines dramatically change the nationwide rating of the virus, from one in which 95% of counties were considered high risk to one in which most Americans can live their lives without masks or social distancing.

Sunday’s announcement should be celebrated by many across the state. “Unmasking our school children is a long overdue victory for children and parents, educators and common sense,” said State Sen. Rob Ortt, a Republican and minority leader who has pushed for a return behind the mandate, in a press release.

While Ms. Hochul’s decision leaves real enforcement power to hundreds of school districts across the state, the announcement marks a major moment in New York’s shutdown efforts to keep its public schools open amid the pandemic. This is especially true in New York, which first closed its sprawling system of about 1,600 schools in March 2020 and has kept strict virus mitigation measures in place since schools began reopening in September. 2020. The city only lifted its outdoor mask mandate for schools last week.

Andrew Pallotta of the New York State United Teachers Union applauded the governor’s announcement saying, “We welcome this step toward normality. The governor strikes the right balance by allowing local officials to use the data to determine if and when mitigation strategies need to change in their regions.

And while many parents support ending terms, the shift will almost certainly affect some families and educators who deem it premature. A recent Siena College Research Institute poll found that 58% of registered voters in New York City believe the state should suspend lifting the mask mandate in schools until data is reviewed in early March. That same poll, which was conducted two weeks ago, found that 45% of respondents disapproved of the state’s removal of mask mandates from private businesses.

The state’s ability to impose such warrants is the subject of a lawsuit pending in state court. Last month, Nassau County Judge Thomas Rademaker declared the mask mandate unconstitutional. New York State Attorney General Letitia James immediately appealed the decision and the warrant was reinstated pending the outcome of the appeal. This case, which is seen as a test of state power, is expected to continue regardless of Ms. Hochul’s decision.

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