Masks Optional Outdoors at NY Schools But Still Required Indoors

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Students no longer need to wear face masks while outdoors during the school day but still must wear them indoors, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced during a news conference on Monday.

Cuomo said the new relaxing of the mask mandate outdoors aligns with rules for summer camps and was approved by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) over the weekend. He also pushed back on reporters who asked about the mixed messages the public had received since Friday about whether masks would be required inside school buildings.

“There was no confusion with the schools,” he said. “We said we were asking the CDC for guidance and we would tell the schools on Monday what the guidance was, which I just did. We never said on Monday anything goes into effect.”

New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker had issued a letter informing the CDC that the state intends to allow school districts to waive the mask mandate for students outside the building unless the CDC advises the state before Monday of contrary data or science. Zucker cited the inconsistency in the CDC guidance between children who are unvaccinated at summer camps and the current rules for unvaccinated children at schools.

Part of the letter listed New York’s drafted guidance, which would have lifted the mask mandate indoors starting Monday, as well, saying “Indoors, mask use will be strongly encouraged but not required for students, campers, and staff/teachers/counselors who are not fully vaccinated.” However, the CDC did not find this advisable, and therefore, the state’s mandate on masks indoors for schools remains in effect. 

Though the state will not require masks outdoors for schools, individual school districts have the option to still require students and staff to wear them while outdoors, Cuomo noted.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, who on Sunday said the decision to wear masks in schools should fall on “the educators and parents who know their children and particular circumstances best,” expressed displeasure with Monday’s announcement

“Today’s announcement from the state regarding masks in schools has added another layer of confusion for parents and school officials rather than clarifying the situation,” she said in a statement. “It’s well past time for this decision to be put in the hands of parents and educators.”

According to the state, transmission of Covid-19 between children is very low. Children 12 to 17 years old are now eligible to be vaccinated against the virus, but the age group has the lowest vaccination rate of any age group in the state.

-With Tim Bolger

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