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COVID-19: Uncertainty Abounds After NY Supreme Court Strikes Down Mask Mandate

Socially distanced students
Socially distanced students Photo Credit: Facebook/New Rochelle Schools

A Supreme Court justice on Long Island struck down the statewide mask mandate in New York, causing mass confusion and prompting a fight from Gov. Kathy Hochul and her administration.

In Nassau County, Justice Thomas Rademaker ruled that Hochul’s office had overstepped its authority with its December mask mandate that was issued through then-acting Health Commissioner Mary T. Bassett.

Instead, the judge said that it was not up to the Department of Health to approve the mandate, it instead should go through the Legislature, where it is potentially less likely to pass.

Rademaker said that the commissioner of health “does not have the authority to make law,” much to the delight of some Republicans in New York.

“The overreach of this statewide mask mandate that relies on partial science rather than all of it has been very widely and adversely felt throughout New York," Long Island Congressman and gubernatorial hopeful Lee Zeldin said in a statement.

Rademaker’s ruling noted that “To be clear, this court does not intend this decision in any way to question or otherwise opine on the efficacy, need or requirement of masks as a means or tool in dealing with the COVID-19 virus."

The ruling has caused some confusion among businesses and schools, some of which immediately dropped the mandate, while others pressed pause and are waiting to see what happens as Hochul plans to reverse the ruling.

New York Attorney General Letitia James has reportedly already filed the appeal regarding the mask mandate.

“My responsibility as governor is to protect New Yorkers throughout this public health crisis, and these measures help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and save lives," Hochul said in a statement. "We strongly disagree with this ruling, and we are pursuing every option to reverse this immediately." 

The State Department of Education sent a statement to boards of education and district superintendents statewide that they must continue to enforce the mask rule following the ruling, while some businesses also plan to continue adhering to the mandate.

“While we await review by the Appellate Court, we have been advised that, at this time, we do not have the legal authority to require masks indoors,” a Hudson Valley school district wrote in a message to parents. “The school district, however, still encourages their use.”

Another schools superintendent said that “we are hearing conflicting reports and anticipate additional legislation on this matter. 

“However, we have been advised by our counsel that until such time as an appeal is filed which stays the Court's decision, there is no authority to require that masks be worn in school.” 

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