New York state mask mandate in schools ends March 2; city set to lift requirements March 7

Governor Kathy Hochul announces record school funding in state budget
Governor Kathy Hochul.
Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

The statewide mask mandate in schools will expire on Wednesday, March 2, and New York City plans to lift its requirement on March 7 if cases remain low, the governor and mayor said Sunday. 

Governor Kathy Hochul first announced her plans to drop the rules for face coverings as COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations have dropped over the past month and following new guidance from Washington.

“My friends, the day has come. Today we are going to be announcing that we’ll be lifting the statewide mask requirement in schools,” Hochul said during a Feb. 27 press conference Sunday morning in Albany. 

State officials chose Wednesday to give schools and PTAs enough time to get ready for the changes after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dropped its new guidance Friday to determine COVID-19 prevention measures. 

The state will leave it up to local counties whether they still want to keep masks on inside schools, the governor said, especially in those areas of the Empire State where infection rates remain higher.

“We will allow them the flexibility to determine what’s best for their county,” Hochul said. “We would encourage them to take a look at this and follow the CDC but this will no longer be a mandate.”

Pulling out the key?

Mayor Eric Adams released a statement Sunday afternoon saying that the city plans to end both indoor masking for schools and its requirements to show proof of vaccination at businesses — also known as Key2NYC — if case counts remain low this week. 

“At the end of this week, we will evaluate the numbers and make a final announcement on Friday,” said Adams. “If we see no unforeseen spikes and our numbers continue to show a low level of risk, New York City will remove the indoor mask mandate for public school children, effective next Monday, March 7.”

“Additionally, New York City’s numbers continue to go down day after day, so, as long as COVID indicators show a low level of risk and we see no surprises this week, on Monday, March 7 we will also lift Key2NYC requirements,” said hizzoner. “This will give business owners the time to adapt and will allow us to ensure we are making the best public health decisions for the people of New York.”

New York City officials announced Friday that they will lift the outdoor mask mandate for schools Monday, Feb. 28. 

Plummeting cases

The CDC now groups areas into three “community levels” with varying risk depending on infection rates, hospitalizations, and hospital bed capacity: low, medium, or high, and the agency only recommends indoor mask requirements at the high level.

Statewide COVID-19 infections have dropped from a peak of more than 90,000 in early January to 1,671 as of Saturday, Feb. 26, and the numbers have trended down for 51 days, according to the governor. 

Cases among children aged 5-18 across a seven-day average plummeted from 14,167 on Jan. 10 to 229 on Feb. 26 — the lowest they’ve been since July.

Hospitalizations of New Yorkers that age group are also down from a peak of 38 on Jan. 8 to seven as of Saturday. 

However, vaccination rates among the youngest eligible kids aged 5-11 continue to lag behind their older counterparts with only one in three having gotten two doses of shots, compared to almost three-quarters of 12-17-year-olds. 

Masks will continue to be required in some settings, including healthcare and group home facilities, correctional facilities, public transit and airports, as well as shelters, but Hochul said the state might relax the rules there as well if the data warrant it. 

“I’ve called for a review of our cases in these specific settings and within a short time we’ll have an analysis of whether or not, in fact, these are areas that remain vulnerable or whether or not there’s been a plateauing and then a decline in cases over a similar amount of time,” she said. “So I just want to make sure we have all the data available before we would end masks in these categories as well.”

Hochul earlier this month said she would wait until after the mid-winter break to determine whether to keep the indoor masking requirement, after letting mandate for face coverings inside businesses expire on Feb. 10.