Governor Hochul lifts indoor mask mandates for schools

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Diego E. Barrera, Staff Writer

On Mar. 1, 2022, two years to the day since the first reported COVID-19 case in New York, the statewide mask mandate for schools came to an end.  This decision allowed individual school districts to enforce their own mandates; as for Port Washington, Superintendent Dr. Michael Hynes made it clear that the district would be adhering to Governor Hochul’s decision to lift the mask mandate. The administrators shared the same attitude that students reserve the right to continue masking at their discretion.

“The ending of the mask mandate signals a huge step towards returning to a normal life.  It’s great to see students showing their faces, but let’s also be mindful that students and staff have the option to wear a mask.  There should be respect towards those who choose to wear a mask, just as well as those who choose not to,” said Assistant Principal Ms. Anisis.

Port Washington’s decision to comply with the state mask mandate changes did not come without challenges.  In Jan., US News reported that a state judge ruled that Governor Hochul and the State Department of Health had no authority to enforce a mask mandate.  During the Jan. 25 Board of Education meeting, tensions arose over how the district would enforce the mask mandate if courts agreed to strike it down.  As The Schreiber Times reported last month, the issue of masking took center stage at such a meeting.  Parents and students gave speeches that created tension; while some backed the keeping of the mask mandates, others have expressed frustration and support for discontinuing them entirely.  Then, it was decided that if the mask mandates were to be repealed on Feb. 1, the Board of Education would have two weeks to come up with a plan on how to implement mandatory masking.  However, an appeals court restored the mandate and no further action was implemented on Governor Hochul’s behalf.

“The Board prepared these initiatives of local masking guidelines because it was important to take the necessary safety precautions.  Just because the state mask mandates are lifted does not mean the pandemic has ended, but that it must be approached differently,” said senior Lara Ozcayir.

Though people of most regions of New York were free to wear masks at their discretion since Mar. 2, New York City Mayor Eric Adams chose to continue with a regional mask mandate for the remainder of that week.  The mandate formally expired on Mar. 7, but not for all children.  Adams only allowed optional masking for those above the age of five.  He is still requiring that all students enrolled in pre-K and 3K programs need to continue masking, at least for the time being.  New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Choski said to The New York Times that the decision to end mask mandates for certain groups of people and sectors of work relies solely on a consistent “lower level of transmission.”  However, New York City’s revised school mask mandate, specifically targeted for those under the age of five, was met with protests.  In a letter sent to Mayor Adams by various preschool and nursery directors, the mandate was said to impede “learning, social, and speech development” to New York City’s youngest residents.

As part of the reopening requirements for schools in Sept. 2020, then-Governor Andrew Cuomo required masking.  For the 2020-2021 school year, he did not allow schools to relax mask mandates in indoor settings, in part due to COVID-19 surges and lack of vaccine supply.  According to an article published by New York’s government website published on Feb. 27, incumbent Governor Hochul chose to discontinue the mask mandate after reviewing “the analysis of several key COVID-19 data trends and after consulting with health and education experts.”  The article goes on to say that Governor Hochul credits New Yorkers for their compliance and resilience.  However, she did say that the mandate would be reinstated should the state experience another surge of cases and hospitalizations.

“I think the mandate was lifted because of the low cases and people started to realize that COVID-19 might be a part of everyday life, similar to the flu.  That’s why we saw people comply with the rules by wearing masks and getting vaccinated.  However, a factor that may cause the masks to be mandatory again is a rapid increase in cases, which is certainly possible,” said freshman James Kott.

Though many are proud to finally be able to remove their masks, others have been taking precautions to ensure safety against exposure.  In a poll conducted by Siena College in late Feb., 58 percent of respondents wanted more data before the mask mandate was lifted.  In the same poll, 46 percent of respondents agreed that they would send their children with masks if the data suggested lifting the mandate was premature or if there was no data released.  In some school districts in New York, some students were wearing masks for various reasons, though masks were optional.

“I am choosing to keep wearing a mask because I have a part-time job in which I can easily contract the virus and potentially pass it to other people.  I also believe that people reserve the right to choose to wear a mask if they feel comfortable doing so,” said senior Alexander El Dib.

For most New Yorkers, the statewide mask mandate’s end signals another step towards a return to normal life after two years.  It feels that their “hard work,” as Governor Hochul described, finally paid off.  The world continues to remain uncertain of COVID-19’s ravaging presence.  Even so, human activity can influence the virus’ trajectory, be it for better or worse.