Hochul lifts mask mandate for schools

Starting Wednesday, students and teachers won’t have to remain masked in class.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks during the 2022 New York State Democratic Convention at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel on February 17, 2022 in New York City.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks during the 2022 New York State Democratic Convention at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel on February 17, 2022 in New York City. Michael M. Santiago / Staff - Getty

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced at a press conference today that the mask mandate for New York schools will end on March 2. The governor’s decision follows new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on when masking should be required. The mandate will officially lift as students return from winter break. 

The news comes as statewide infection rates among kids continue to hit lows not seen since July 2021, and as New York comes close to leading the nation in vaccination rates among children under 18. “We said that as the numbers start coming down, we’re going to be very logical about this,” Hochul said. “This is not just an instinct, a reaction, just a gut feeling of when you have a mask on or a mask off – you do it based on… metrics and data that are reliable.” She prefaced the mask announcement with slide after slide of data on the state’s progress in reducing COVID-19 infections among not just younger populations, but the state’s overall population – evidence to support her assertion that the time had indeed come to end the school mask mandate. 

Although Hochul has lifted the state mandate on masking in schools, she said that local governments could still require them if their own transmission rates or hospitalizations are higher. That includes New York City, where the Department of Education recently said that kids would no longer need to wear masks while outdoors, but kept in place rules for indoors. Hochul would not opine on whether Mayor Eric Adams would follow the state’s lead in the coming days.

The state’s largest teachers union responded positively to the news while emphasizing the importance of local districts continuing to work with teachers to ensure schools remain safe and healthy. “We welcome this step toward normalcy,” New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta said in a statement. “The governor is striking the right balance by empowering local officials to use data to determine if and when the mitigation strategies need to change in their areas.”

Mask mandates in other settings still apply throughout the state, including in health care and adult care facilities, public transportation and in correctional facilities. Hochul left the door open to the prospect that the state may soon lift some of those requirements as well following reviews of positive test rates in those settings. “I just want to make sure we have all the data available before we would end masks in these categories as well,” the governor said. 

At the same press conference, Hochul also signed an executive order relating to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. After condemning Russia’s actions, the governor signed the order that instructs state agencies to review any investments in Russian assets and any business done with Kremlin-tied organizations, and to sever those ties for as long as federal sanctions remain in place. “This is a strong statement,” Hochul said. “It’s a statement of our priorities, it’s a statement of our values.” Late last week, the governor also pledged that New York would accept Ukrainian refugees if and when the need arises.