Masks optional at many New York schools after term ends | Health info

By CAROLYN THOMPSON, Associated Press

BUFFALO, NY (AP) — School districts in New York state, including many of the largest, made mask-wearing optional for students and staff starting Wednesday, as a mandate to statewide was coming to an end.

The districts of Yonkers, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo and Albany were among those that stopped requiring face coverings following Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul’s decision to lift the statewide requirement, citing a dramatic drop in COVID-19 infections and new federal guidelines.

For many students, this was their first time in a classroom without a mask since early 2020.

“Stress relief,” Taneah Thomas, 16, a high school student from Buffalo, said after leaving South Park High School Wednesday with a mix of masked and unmasked students after school. The last time she was without a mask was in first grade.

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Taneah didn’t cover her face on Wednesday but wasn’t quite ready to give up the habit completely.

“I had it around my neck,” she said. “I thought it was good because I could finally breathe better.”

In New York, which has the nation’s largest school district, an indoor mask mandate is set to be lifted on Monday. Democratic Mayor Eric Adams said he plans to make a final decision on Friday after evaluating the latest case numbers and other statistics.

“Our assumption is that based on the numbers we have so far, we will be ready for Monday, where we will follow state guidelines that allow people to remove the mask,” the schools chancellor said. New York, David Banks. told reporters on Wednesday.

The state health department has said schools should continue to encourage social distancing, vaccines and testing, but by removing its recommendation for universal face coverings, it has calmed one of the most controversial issues in the pandemic that has been the subject of frequent protests and lawsuits.

Buffalo attorney James Ostrowski said that despite the change, he would continue to pursue the lawsuit filed against the state and several school districts on behalf of 24 families opposed to the mandate, in an attempt to obtain damages and a permanent ban on mask requirements by government officials in the future.

“This lawsuit will continue and will most likely increase by adding new plaintiffs whose children have suffered under this legal mandate over the past two years,” Ostrowski said at a Monday news conference.

New guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says most Americans can now safely take a break from wearing masks, including students in schools.

The New York Health Department guidelines allow local health departments to implement stricter mask rules than the state and encourage them to collaborate with school districts on decisions. Masks are still required for 10 days after a COVID-19 infection and are recommended for 10 days for people who have been exposed to an infected person.

Yonkers school administrators said while masks were no longer required, students and staff were encouraged to wear them until the end of the week to mitigate the spread of exposure after the summer vacation. winter of last week.

“We don’t want an increase in this number of positive cases that may require us to wear masks again or possibly quarantine classes,” the district said on its website.

In New York, Banks said he would leave decisions about voluntary mask-wearing to staff and the nearly 940,000 students, even though they are no longer required to do so.

“This decision will be made by the parents and their families. They don’t need a recommendation from me,” Banks said. “It’s nothing new. They’ve been dealing with it for a very long time. »

In Buffalo, special education teacher Matthew Olson said he was happy to see that many students, like him, have chosen to continue masking at South Park High School.

“I was surprised how many kids kept wearing it,” he said, “because I’ll probably be the last person to take it off.”

Associated Press writer Michelle L. Price contributed from New York.

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