NYS: Masks ‘not required’ for students, staff at schools — indoors or outdoors

Coronavirus

FILE – In this Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020 file photo, parents wait with children on the schoolyard for the start of their first day at a school in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. Just in time for back-to-school for millions of kids, the World Health Organization on Monday, Aug. 24, 2020 has issued guidance about mask-wearing by children, suggesting in particular that those aged 6 to 11 should wear them too in some cases to help fight the spread of the coronavirus. The WHO recommendations follow upon the widespread belief that children aged under 12 are not considered as likely to propagate the virus as much as adults. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)

NEW YORK — In a letter to the CDC issued Friday, state officials said they’d issue a new policy that would not require students or staff to wear masks at schools unless the CDC specifically recommends otherwise by Monday.

New York City officials, though, said their policy won’t change.

The letter, signed by New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker and directed to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, outlined the following state recommendations set to take effect Monday:

• Indoors, mask use will be strongly encouraged but not required for students, campers, and
staff/teachers/counselors who are not fully vaccinated.
• Outdoors, masks are not required; students, campers, and staff/teachers/counselors who are
not fully vaccinated are “encouraged” to wear a mask in certain higher-risk circumstances.
• Both indoors and outdoors, students, campers, and staff who are fully vaccinated do not need to
wear masks.
• Schools and camps may choose to implement stricter standards.

The move comes after the CDC recommended less stringent guidelines for summer camps, but didn’t make the same changes for schools. The state, in the letter, noted similarities between the two as the reason for its new guidance.

Fully vaccinated individuals are not required to wear masks indoors or outdoors; non-vaccinated individuals are encouraged to wear masks indoors and in high-risk outdoor situations, though it is not mandatory, the letter said.

Schools or camps can require masks or launch more stringent policies, but are not required to do so.

The state teachers’ union condemned the move, noting the short amount of time remaining in the 2020-2021 academic year.

“Announcing on a Friday afternoon that masks will now be optional for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people in schools starting Monday — with only three weeks remaining in the school year — is whiplash-inducing news. Short of any additional guidance from the state or the CDC before Monday, we implore school districts to closely evaluate local conditions and connect with their educators and parents to decide the best course of action for protecting their school community.” — NYSUT President Andy Pallotta

The New York City Department of Education said regardless of the state’s policy changes, they’re keeping their current guidelines in place.

“The health and safety of our students, educators and staff remain our top priority,” a spokesperson said. “Per State guidance, local districts may implement standards that make the most sense for their communities, and we are continuing with our universal mask policy at our schools.”

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