ALBANY — Gov. Kathy Hochul wants everyone to give her a break — the midwinter break — before she decides whether or not to lift school mask mandates statewide.
But Hochul is expected to announce on Wednesday that it will lift a separate mandate requiring businesses with no vaccination requirement to require workers, customers and visitors to wear face coverings in public spaces.
Hochul told a group of teachers, administrators and parents on Tuesday that she wanted to wait until after the next school vacation the week of Feb. 21 before making a final appeal on the mask edict.
“She said she would like to see what happens when students and faculty return after February vacation to see if there is an increase in cases,” said Robert Lowry, deputy director of advocacy, of the research and communications from the New York State Council of School Principals, after an approximately 45-minute virtual closed-door meeting between Hochul and a statewide education representative on Tuesday afternoon.
The school vacation period usually begins on Presidents Day weekend and children return to class on Monday, February 28.
That gives Hochul more time to think about a change, especially since the state Department of Health said Monday that regulations granting it the ability to issue mask mandates in schools would likely be renewed on Monday. February 21 – its scheduled expiration date.
But she is under increasing pressure to lift the mandate, particularly after neighboring New Jersey and Connecticut announced that school masking mandates would end in the coming weeks.
The rule was originally slated to last longer than 90 days, but it’s unclear whether Hochul would issue a renewal for the same period or for a shorter extension.
State Health Commissioner Mary Bassett also told a joint legislative hearing on Tuesday that no “decision” has yet been made on when the requirement will be lifted.
“It is obvious that there is an active reflection on what would justify a change in the mask requirements. At one point she said the state would look at a combination of factors, not just one thing, cases, hospitalizations, vaccination rates,” Lowry said.
“She said she would like to see what happens when students and faculty return after February vacation to see if there is an increase in cases.”
Lowry also said parents are frustrated that the state hasn’t provided any benchmarks as to when terms will end.
“What we are hearing more and more in recent weeks is that even among parents who have accepted the Covid requirements – mainly the mask – are simply becoming frustrated with the uncertainty, the changing facts and the rise Omicron sudden.
“As we continue to see cases and hospitalizations decrease, I think it is important to work closely with groups and leaders on the ground so that we move forward in the pandemic in a way where we can stay. ahead of COVID-19 and keeping New Yorkers safe,” Hochul said in a statement.
“Keeping schools open has always been my top priority, and I want to thank the teachers, administrators, and parents who joined me today to hear from them first-hand. I also want to remind parents and guardians to please get their children immunized and stimulated if they are eligible. The vaccine is safe, free, doctor-approved and key to keeping our communities and vulnerable loved ones safe.”