Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Sunday that the state requirement for children in school and child care to wear masks indoors would end on Wednesday.
Hochul likened the Covid-19 pandemic to a “war that has been unfolding for the last two years, where our country has been under siege by this unseen assailant, one that has taken thousands of lives of Americans and New Yorkers.”
In defense of the mask requirement, Hochul said that when she was sworn into office six months ago, her priority was to get children back to school, but that wearing masks was the best guarantee that they would be safe, especially since a pediatric vaccine was not available until November.
“We’re going to talk about where we came from in these last six months,” Hochul said during a news conference on Sunday, “and you see the spikes and the infection rates that really validated the rationale and the logic behind ensuring that we had those masks in place through those spikes, especially the Omicron variant.”
Lynbrook school officials posted a message to parents on the district’s website about the lifting of the mandate,
“The Lynbrook School District is mindful that there are differences in thoughts and feelings regarding the changes,” it read in part. “We ask that everyone maintains a civil environment for all as the decision to wear a mask is very personal and should be respected as such. It will be very important for our students to be kind, caring and respectful of one another’s decisions regarding the wearing of masks. We appreciate your assistance in reinforcing these expectations at home.”
East Rockaway school officials also posted a similar message:
“Please be advised that any student or staff member who wishes to continue to wear a mask may of course do so,” it read in part. “The district’s Covid-19 Plan has been updated and the revised plan will be posted this week to reflect the mask optional guidance. Building principals will update families on any changes to building procedures, as well as protocols for upcoming events.”
The lifting of the mandates was met mostly with approval.
Responding to a Herald inquiry on Facebook, Joanna Bishop, of Lynbrook, wrote that she felt “gaslighted” by having to have her children adhere to a mask mandate for so long.
“I’ve abided because I wanted my kids in school, but I have felt the mask mandate was never truly about my children’s safety,” she wrote. “The further we get from the beginning, the more it feels like a lesson in government tolerance.”
Stacy Funaro Benson questioned why it took so much time to lift the mandate.
“It should have never ever went on this long,” she wrote. “Even waiting until Wednesday is ridiculous. Covid today and tomorrow, but gone on Wednesday? Can’t wait to see all kids beautiful faces.”
Stephanie Brizard took a different perspective and wondered what would be the long-term effects of lifting the mask mandates.
“The science supported the lifting of the mask mandate, which is what Governor Hochul did,” she wrote. “The important question that remains is how will Lynbrook, and other school boards, mitigate for cases moving forward? Especially at the elementary levels where many students have not been vaccinated.”
Jennifer Jablons Marlborough wrote that her children were not completely ready to ditch their face coverings.
“One of my sons would rather keep his mask on,” she wrote. “I feel confident that our district will support his decision and not make him feel bad for his choice. My other son wants to just bring his mask to school to protect himself from ‘close-talkers’ if needed. I guess we will see if there is an increase in transmission and how the districts will respond if there is an increase.”
Using a series of large diagrams, Hochul demonstrated her use of positivity rates, hospitalizations, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, and consultations with “the educational community, whose voices needed to be heard – our commissioner of education, our parents, our PTAs, our school superintendents, our school administrators and our school unions.”
From a high of a seven-day average of 14,167 positive pediatric Covid cases as of Jan. 10, with 38 children hospitalized, the numbers have dropped steadily for 48 days. Now, across the state, the seven-day average of pediatric cases is 226, and seven children are hospitalized with Covid.
Hochul said the current numbers represent “our lowest point in pediatric cases since July of 2021, and that was before the school year started. … We are in a much, much better place.”
The improved statistics were confirmed late Friday by a CDC report that broke down the number of Covid cases in New York by county.
“They’ve come up with a calculation on what constitutes a low, medium, or high community risk level,” Hochul said, “and 70 percent of our population now lives in an area considered low to medium risk.” The CDC recommendation is that, for communities with low to medium risk, masks for children are no longer required indoors, including for children in day care.
“So given the decline in our infection rates, our hospitalizations, our strong vaccination rates, and the CDC guidance,” said Hochul, “my friends, the day has come.”
Hochul said that communities designated higher risk had the option to enact more restrictive measures, but the state would not enforce a mask requirement in those areas.
In response to Hochul’s announcement, County Executive Bruce Blakeman said, “While I believe the governor’s decision to end her unconstitutional mandate is too little too late, I am happy that parents will soon have the power to decide what is best for their kids, and our students will finally be able to return to normal and see the smiling faces of their friends again.”