Then, on Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Washington released new guidance that masks and social distancing were necessary only in areas where infection risk was high, clearing the way for the lifting of many virus prevention measures.
That announcement came as the agency shifted its strategy in assessing risk from one based on case counts to one that weighs the stress on hospitals from coronavirus patients, as well as new cases per 100,000 people over the previous week. The guidance starkly changes the virus assessment nationwide from one in which 95 percent of counties were considered high risk to one in which most Americans can return to lives without masking or social distancing.
Sunday’s announcements were celebrated by many across the state. Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, said that the rollbacks were welcomed.
“The business community is eager to get beyond pandemic conditions and restrictions,” she said.
And Republicans cheered the news on masks in schools. “The unmasking of our school children is a long overdue victory for kids and parents, educators and common sense,” State Senator Rob Ortt, a Republican and the minority leader who has pushed for a rollback of the mandate, said in a statement.
Although Ms. Hochul’s decision leaves actual implementation power to the state’s hundreds of school districts, the announcement is a major moment in New York’s halting efforts to keep its public schools open amid the pandemic. That is especially true in New York City, which first closed its sprawling system of roughly 1,600 schools in March 2020 and has kept strict virus mitigation measures in place since schools began to reopen in September 2020. The city lifted its outdoor mask mandate for schools only this past week.
The United Federation of Teachers, which represents teachers in New York City, struck a pensive note, with its president, Michael Mulgrew, saying the union would “confer with our own independent doctors, look at the data from take-home test kits and random in-school testing this week, and make sure all of that is taken into account as New York City reviews its own school masking policy.”
And while many support the end of mandates, the shift will almost certainly concern a significant number of New Yorkers who believe it is premature. A recent poll from the Siena College Research Institute found that 58 percent of New York registered voters believed the state should hold off on lifting the mask mandate in schools until reviewing data from early March. That same poll, which was taken two weeks ago, found that 45 percent of respondents disapproved of the state’s rollback of mask mandates in private businesses.