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New York State relaxing school mask requirements for outdoors

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New York state will still require schools to current mask requirements for students and staff while indoors but is allowing localities to drop outdoor mask-wearing requirements for school children, Governor Andrew Cuomo said Monday. 

The reversal comes just three days after state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker sent a letter to Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealing the state planned to lift mask requirements for schools and camps. 

“Indoors, mask use will be strongly encouraged but not required for students, campers, and staff/teachers/counselors who are not fully vaccinated,” the letter reads. “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. 

Despite the easing of state mask requirements, the New York City Department of Education said Friday it planned to keep its current health and safety protocol in place for schools and require all students, faculty and staff to continue to wear masks indoors with backing from the city’s teacher union, the United Federation of Teachers. 

“The health and safety of our students, educators and staff remain our top priority. 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,” said DOE spokesperson Danielle Filson. 

 The policy reversal comes after the CDC told state officials it will not issue changes to its mask-wearing guidelines for “several weeks,” according to the governor.  “In New York state we are going to modify the CDC guidance and allow schools to choose no masks outside for children…We spoke to the CDC, it has no objection to that,” Cuomo said. 

The change also came shortly after the governor announced the state would ease more COVID  health and safety guidelines once 70% of adults in New York state receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. “There will still be some institutional guidelines, large venues, schools, public transportation, hospitals, nursing homes but when we hit 70% we will be back to life as normal or as normal as you can be post-COVID,” the governor said. 

On Monday, the governor reported 68.6% of adults across the state have had at least one dose of the vaccine. But getting another 1.4% of the state population inoculated against the virus might not be so easy given how sharply vaccination rates have dropped. In order to reach the milestone, Cuomo urged localities to ramp up efforts to get more 12 to 17-year-old children vaccinated and sid the state would focus vaccination efforts on zip codes with low vaccination rates. 

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