ALBANY — Gov. Kathy Hochul wants everyone to give her a break — the mid-winter break — before she decides whether to lift school mask mandates statewide.
But Hochul is expected to announce on Wednesday that she’ll lift a separate mandate requiring businesses without vaccination requirements to compel workers, customers and visitors to wear face coverings in public spaces.
Hochul told a group of teachers, administrators and parents Tuesday that she wants to wait until after the upcoming school break the week of Feb. 21 before making a final call on the mask edict.
“She said she would like to see what happens when the students and the faculty return after the February break to see if there’s a surge in cases,” said Robert Lowry, Deputy Director for Advocacy, Research & Communications of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, following a roughly 45-minute closed door, virtual meeting between Hochul and education representative from across the state Tuesday afternoon.
The school vacation period typically starts over Presidents Day weekend and kids return to class on Monday, Feb. 28.
It buys Hochul more time to mull a change, especially as the state Department of Health said on Monday that the regulation granting her the ability to issue mask mandates in schools would likely be renewed on Feb. 21 – its anticipated expiration date.
But she is under mounting pressure to lift the mandate, especially after neighboring New Jersey and Connecticut announced school masking mandates will end within the next several weeks.
The rule was initially slated to last over a 90-day period, but it’s unclear if Hochul would issue a renewal over the same period or for a shorter extension.
State Health Commissioner Mary Bassett also said Tuesday during a joint legislative hearing that no “decision” has been yet as to when the requirement will be lifted.
“It’s apparent that there is active consideration of what would justify a change in mask requirements. At one point she said the state would look at a combination of factors, not just one thing, cases, hospitalization, vaccination rates,” said Lowry.
“She said she would like to see what happens when the students and the faculty return after the February break to see if there’s a surge in cases.”
Lowry also said parents have been frustrated that the state failed to provide benchmarks as to when the mandates will end.
“What we’re hearing more in recent weeks is that even among parents who have been accepting of the Covid requirements — most prominently mask — are just becoming frustrated with the uncertainty, changing facts and the Omicron surge.
“As we continue to see cases and hospitalizations decline, I believe 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 in front of COVID-19 and keep New Yorkers safe,” said Hochul 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 directly from them. I want to also remind parents and guardians to please get their children vaccinated, and boosted if eligible. The vaccine is safe, free, doctor-approved and the key to keeping our communities and vulnerable loved ones safe.”