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Gov. Hochul lifting mask mandate for NYS businesses, public places

Gov, Kathy Hochul, wearing red, standing at a microphone with a blue and white NYS GOES #VAXtoSCHOOL SAFELY" on the monitor behind her.
Mike Groll
/
Office of the Governor
Gov. Kathy Hochul gives a COVID-19 briefing in New York in early February 2022.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced that the statewide mask mandate, adopted to help combat COVID-19, will end Thursday. But she says, for now, school children will still need to wear face coverings.

Governor Hochul, citing a 93% drop in COVID- 19 infection rates since the peak of the omicron variant on January 7th- and hospitalization rates declining form a high of 12,000 in mid January to around 4600 today, says it’s time to end the statewide mask mandate, effective Thursday.

“At this time we say it is the right decision to lift this mandate for indoor business,” said Hochul, who said local governments and businesses will be able to make the decision for themselves whether or not to require masks.

Hochul says individuals are also free to wear masks.

The requirement remains in place, though, for all health care settings, including hospitals and nursing homes, and on public transportation, including airplanes, trains and busses.

School children and teachers will also still be required to wear masks for a little while longer. Hochul, after consulting with school leaders, and health experts says she wants to wait until after the upcoming winter break before deciding whether to drop the mandate.

She says parents will be required to test their children the first Monday after the vacation, and then three days later. She says in the first week of March, she will assess all of the data and make a decision.

“This is all about looking out for the health of our children,” Hochul said.

Schools have complained that they have not been given clear guidance on testing, quarantining and other COVID related protocols. Hochul promised to clarify the rules going forward.

The state’s Business Council praised the governor’s decision. The group’s President, Heather Briccetti said, in a statement, that while business obeyed the mandates that they hope the easing of the restrictions will “encourage New Yorkers to continue to support New York businesses still recovering from the pandemic”.”

The governor’s announcement comes at a time when neighboring states of New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts are ending mask mandates, including in schools. But the federal Centers for Disease Control Director Rochelle Walensky says it’s too soon to end mask requirements for school children.

Hochul says she remains concerned with the low vaccination rate for 5 to 11 years old, at around 35%, compared with around 85% for the general population. And she did not rule out re-imposing rules in the future, if there is another wave of the virus.

“The pandemic is not over,” she said.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.