(The Center Square) – New York officials plan to move away from requiring masks at schools and camps and switch to a policy that “strongly encourages” students, campers, teachers, counselors and staff who are not fully vaccinated to use them.
Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker announced that planned policy change in a letter Friday to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the letter, Zucker said the state plans to move forward with the new policy, making it effective on Monday, unless the CDC could offer any information countering it.
Zucker wrote the letter noting that the center’s policies for schools and camps were not consistent.
"As we continue to work to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and balance reopening with safety, New York State strives for consistency across and between settings with similar risk levels and populations,” Zucker wrote.
In addition to the new indoor guideline, Zucker wrote that the state will not make outdoor mask use a requirement but just encourage their use.
Officials consider someone to be fully vaccinated once two weeks pass after they get the single-dose Johnson & Johnson or the second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
The state will recommend that fully vaccinated individuals will not need masks, but schools and camps will have the power to set more rigid requirements.
The move comes just days after New York U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-Shirley, called for lifting the mask requirement for kids. Zeldin is running for the Republican nomination in next year’s governor’s race.
In a news conference Wednesday, Cuomo said it’s rare for the state not to follow CDC guidance, but he felt the outdoor mask mandate for students was “a little extreme.”
“We’re talking to the CDC about it,” he said.
Zeldin claimed victory in a tweet Friday afternoon after reports of the letter surfaced.
“We did it!” He posted. “Honored to have led the fight to unmask our kids with so many passionate parents across NY FIGHTING for their freedoms & kids. We got it done! With this effort, imagine what we're going to do in Nov 2022!”
Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, said in a statement Friday he had called on the governor to ease the requirement. He added that it would be a decision better left for local leaders instead of Cuomo.
“Nonetheless, the state’s new guidance that will loosen mask mandates in schools, both indoors and outdoors, is welcome news for students, staff and concerned parents,” Ortt said.