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COVID-19: State's Reversal On Face Coverings At Schools Creates Last-Minute Mask Confusion

New York is creating confusion regarding its mask mandates.
New York is creating confusion regarding its mask mandates. Photo Credit: Pixabay/ Alexandra_Koch

New Yorkers are anxiously awaiting word from the CDC after the state was forced to reverse its stance on face coverings in schools for students.

Late on Sunday night, June 6, state education officials said that masks will still be required during indoor classes, despite an announcement last week from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Health Commissioner Howard Zucker proclaiming that they will no longer be required.

On Friday, June 4, Zucker said that masks will be “strongly encouraged” for unvaccinated people, but not required. They were also not to be needed outdoors, though people not fully vaccinated were to be encouraged to wear them in high-risk circumstances.

However, in a letter released over the weekend, the New York State Department of Education clarified that Zucker's letter was a request for updated guidance for the state from the CDC - guidance that has not come, yet.

The CDC told the Associated Press on Friday, June 4 that it recommends schools and childcare facilities continue to follow COVID-19 prevention strategies, such as consistent indoors mask use, for the rest of the 2020-2021 school year.

“Therefore, schools should continue to operate under their existing procedures until further notice," the state Education Department stated. "No changes have been, or will be, made by the Executive until after Monday, June 7 to afford the CDC an opportunity to respond to the letter.”

The new guidance caught many educators by surprise.

“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," New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta said in a statement.

"We have heard that some districts will drop mask requirements starting Monday. We have also heard that some school attorneys have given the legal interpretation shared above, advising that no change in district policy can be made until formal guidance has been issued by the state and consultation with stakeholders may be required.

"Again, we have communicated to the Governor's staff that the letter has created a mess for school district leaders to manage. We have also shared some of the specific issues and problems we have heard from superintendents." 

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