Hochul, who unveiled the development during a news conference, cited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) having eased its masking recommendations in most public settings for the rule change, which goes into effect Wednesday. Child care centers also do not have to impose masking rules.
However, she said that individual counties and municipalities can keep their own mandates intact.
“Given the decline in our rates, our hospitalizations, strong vaccination rates, and the CDC guidance, we, friends, the day has come,” Hochul said. “Today we are going to be announcing that would be lifting the statewide mask requirement in schools, and that’ll be effective this Wednesday, March 2.”
Hochul also said that New York is at its “lowest point of pediatric cases since July 2021. We are in a much, much better place.”
The statewide mask mandate, she added, still applies to nursing homes, correctional facilities, healthcare facilities, and homeless or domestic violence shelters. Masks are also required at airports based in New York under federal guidelines.
Two days before Hochul’s announcement, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a briefing with reporters that nearly three-quarters of Americans don’t need to wear masks because they live in areas with low or medium risk from COVID-19, the illness caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
“This updated approach focuses on directing our prevention efforts toward protecting people at high risk for severe ailments and preventing hospitals and healthcare systems from being overwhelmed,” she said.
New York Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt issued a statement that he agreed with Hochul’s decision, saying that additional steps should be taken.
“The unmasking of our school children is a long overdue victory for kids and parents, educators, and common sense,” he said. “It is time to put my resolution up for a vote, end the unnecessary statewide emergency, and end all Albany mandates.”
Critics of mask mandates, including some House Republicans, said that forcing children to wear masks for hours at a time in class will ruin their development.
“There is no question, as we enter the third year of this pandemic, CDC’s guidelines and policies have failed to factor in—let alone prioritize—children’s social, emotional, and educational development,” GOP lawmakers wrote in a letter to the CDC in late January.
With mask mandates, they added, teenagers and younger children “are experiencing a mental health crisis of historic proportions,” citing a recent U.S. Surgeon General warning that “suicide attempts have risen sharply for adolescents.”