NYS Governor Hochul Reassessing School Mask Mandate for March


Rebecca Herzberg

MHS students and faculty ponder the role of masks in school after winter break.

Caitlyn Carpenter, Editor-In-Chief

Last Thursday, February 10th, New York’s indoor mask mandate—which required masks to be worn in businesses for those who did not show proof of vaccination—ended after an announcement made by Governor Kathy Hochul on Wednesday. In her speech, the Governor cited a 93% drop in COVID-19 cases since the state’s Omicron peak on January 7th. It is now up to local officials in cities, towns, and businesses to decide their masking policies.
This lifting, however, does not include New York’s schools. In the same speech where she announced the lifting of the business mask mandate, Governor Hochul explained how she doesn’t feel comfortable lifting the school mask mandate given the low vaccination rates for children 5-11. The state plans to test students the day after returning from Winter break and then again three days later. The Governor stated that by Friday, March 4th, the state will be able to use the data of positive cases along with a number of other metrics to assess whether to lift the mandate in March.
Although the in-school mask mandate was originally set to expire this Monday, February 21st, it was granted an extension through Wednesday, March 2nd, by the New York State Court of Appeals. The extension was made after the January 25th decision by the Nassau County Supreme Court that declared that the in-school mask mandate violated New York’s constitution. It claimed that the Governor was acting under emergency authority that was no longer granted.
The decision left schools across New York, including MHS, in uncharted territory, with the first day since March 15th 2020 of in-person maskless school. By 5 o’clock that evening, however, the New York State Appellate Court reached the extension that has continued to keep masks mandated in the classroom today.
Although, at MHS, most students and staff did not remove their masks, it is not clear if this would remain the case should the mandate be permanently ended. Georgia Gatti (‘24) commented how, “on Jan 25, I didn’t mind other people taking their masks off in the building, but I wasn’t ready to do so myself, given that it’s all very new [and] I don’t know how others would react or view me if I had done so” given the controversy over the day’s decision. She went on to say, however, that “if we moved to a school environment without masks, as long as everyone was on board with the decision and there wouldn’t be an issue, I’d feel comfortable [removing my mask in school].”
The lifting of New York mask mandates is part of a larger trend of blue-state governors, including those of New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, and Oregon, attempting to transition to a life where COVID-19 is treated like most other illnesses. The New Jersey in-school mask mandate will lift on March 7th, Connecticut schools will be mask-optional starting February 28th, and the latest date for Delaware and Oregon schools to lift their mandates is March 31st.
Despite these significant shifts the CDC still recommends, on the national level, “universal indoor masking by all students (ages 2 years and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.” However, there are increasing cries across the country for shifts in this policy as families begin to weigh the costs of continuing pandemic restrictions on their children’s learning. Now, the future of masking is yet to be seen for NY students and faculty.