Health Department Chief Mom on School Mask Orders | Public Service News

ALBANY — The state’s top health official declined to give details on Tuesday about ending New York’s mask mandate in schools, as a growing number of lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle demand simplified advice for public educators.

The ongoing debate over COVID-19 public health regulations widened on Tuesday when Sen. John Liu, a Democrat from Queens, pleaded with Health Department Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett that the department declares an end date or names a specific metric to dismiss the student. life without a mask.

“No decision has been made as to when the school mask mandate will end,” Bassett told dozens of lawmakers Tuesday during a virtual joint hearing on the legislative health care budget. “I’m proud that we were able to keep the children safe and in school. And we did that by launching everything we have in terms of prevention, interventions that keep children safe in school, and that will remain the priority that we all share, I’m sure.

The mask mandate in New York schools is set to expire on February 21.

The health commissioner repeated a variation of the response without detail to several lawmakers who pressed her on the school mask issue.

In the meantime, the state’s health department and education department are considering making permanent a few emergency regulations issued during the pandemic, including requiring COVID vaccines for hospital and care workers. of health, giving the health commissioner the power to implement face mask requirements on the ages of New Yorkers. 2 and above, and allowing DOH and local health departments to issue isolation or quarantine orders to people diagnosed with or exposed to a contagious disease.

Coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to fall, and neighboring Democratic states like New Jersey have announced an end date for their school mask requirement.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said she wants the state to have a set of metrics for officials and the public to assess.

“In my ideal world, I would like there to be one set of metrics that everyone is looking at,” she told reporters later Tuesday afternoon. “I wish in my ideal world, again, I wish for everyone to be vaccinated, everyone to be boosted and everyone to follow the science.

“…I wish there was an authority that we all listened to and believed and that we all followed.”

New Yorkers are counting on the Department of Health, Liu said, to consult with Governor Kathy Hochul and leaders and answer the question officials and voters have been repeating for months: What COVID numbers would mean the end of the term of the mask for students, and when?

Students’ mental health issues must be taken into account, he added.

“We say it’s all based on science,” Liu said. “It’s harder to keep explaining to our constituents than when neighboring states start lifting their mass mandates, including for school children, so please consider that.”

Stewart-Cousins ​​echoed the confusion expressed by voters, but said the governor should consult with the state health department, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other officials before to take action.

“Ideally, I’m sure the governor would want to have a set of measures from an authority that everyone respects and follows, but in the absence of that people look in their own environment and do their best,” he said. said the leader of the Senate. noted.

Hochul, a Democrat, held a virtual meeting in the state Capitol on Tuesday with teachers, superintendents and parents from across the state to assess the state’s COVID-19 protocols, including the mask mandate. . The meeting was closed to the press.

“Keeping schools open has always been my top priority, and I want to thank the teachers, administrators and parents who joined me today to hear from them first-hand,” Hochul said in a prepared statement.

Officials will continue to assess the school mask mandate for most of the month.

“Like everyone else, our members are ready to overcome this pandemic and return to normal life, and they want to do so in a way that keeps all of our students, teachers, employees and their families safe,” said the director of the School Boards Association. Director Robert S. Schneider said in a statement. “The governor, like school board members, must balance many different concerns and ultimately decide based on what is best for our students.”

Hochul is expected to announce on Wednesday the end, or at least a plan to eliminate, of the permanent face mask or vaccination requirement for people to enter New York businesses that are scheduled to end on Thursday. The state’s daily COVID infection rate fell to 4.2% on Monday after several weeks with double-digit numbers due to the predicted winter surge that peaked at 23% a month ago.

But officials have given few details about their scientific research, mindset, or intent to end the state’s mask mandate for anyone entering a public school building older than 2 years as the Governor put in place when he took office in August.

Republicans have been part of lawsuits, led multiple rallies and proposed legislation to overturn state mask requirements since they were first instituted under former Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2020.

On Tuesday, several Republicans also questioned Bassett about the need for face masks in schools as the state’s COVID-19 infection rate continues to fall.

Assembly members Colin Schmitt, R-New Windsor; and Ed Ra, R-Franklin Square; were two of many minority lawmakers to question health officials about the mask mandate.

“We’re watching the numbers and we don’t have an appointment for you,” Bassett replied to Schmitt.

The mask mandate was part of the state’s multi-pronged approach to combat the rise in coronavirus infections and protect young children who recently became eligible to receive the COVID vaccine or who are most likely to be carriers to spread the disease to vulnerable populations.

“Our top priority is keeping children in school, and that has been accomplished through a range of public health interventions,” Bassett said.

The state continues to have different COVID protocols and regulations for public school students and daycares, creating confusion about the safest pandemic practices for different age levels.

The state health department doesn’t have a plan or timeline to release simplified guidelines for caregivers or early childhood educators, Bassett said.

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