NEW YORK (WABC) -- A New York judge ruled Monday that the state's mask mandate can't be enforced, after it was reinstituted by Gov. Kathy Hochul over concerns about a winter surge of coronavirus cases.
However, the New York State Department of Education issued a statement that schools must continue to follow the mask rule until the case is resolved.
It all started when State Supreme Court Judge Thomas Rademaker said in his decision that the state Department of Health didn't have the legal authority to implement the mandate, and that it was up to the state Legislature to do so if needed.
The mandate "is a law that was promulgated and enacted unlawfully by an executive branch state agency, and therefore void and unenforceable," the judge said.
That prompted Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman to declare that starting Tuesday, kids could go to school without masks on.
However, the Department of Education released the following statement:
"The State Education Department understands that Nassau County Supreme Court has ruled that the Department of Health exceeded its authority in enacting the mask regulation, 10 NYCRR 2.60, in Demetriou et al. v. New York State Dep't of Health et al. This regulation is the subject of conflicting decisions, insofar as Albany County Supreme Court recently upheld the regulation in Massapequa UFSD et al. v. Hochul, et al.
It is SED's understanding that the Department of Health will appeal the Nassau County Supreme Court decision, which will result in an automatic stay that will unambiguously restore the mask rule until such time as an appellate court issues a further ruling. Therefore, schools must continue to follow the mask rule."
At least 19 school districts on Long Island have announced they would make masks optional on Tuesday including the following: Plainedge, Massapequa, North Merrick, Smithtown, Levittown, East Meadow, Sachem, West Islip, Farmingdale, Franklin Square, Rockville Centre, Sewanhaka, Bellmore-Merrick Central High School Districts, Copiague, Carle Place, Harborfields, Commack, Connetquot and Lindenhurst.
Masks remain mandatory in Jericho, Baldwin, Syosset and all Catholic schools.
Gov. Hochul released the following statement on Monday night:
"My responsibility as Governor is to protect New Yorkers throughout this public health crisis, and these measures help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. We strongly disagree with this ruling, and we are pursuing every option to reverse this immediately."
The state had initially instituted a mask mandate in April 2020 that ended in June 2021 for vaccinated individuals; Hochul announced in mid-December that it would go back into effect for at least a month. Earlier this month, the state health department said the mandate would be in place until Feb 1.
The ruling comes as the omicron wave that gripped New York state appears to be fading. The state averaged around 23,400 new cases of the virus per day in the 7 day period that ended Sunday, down from 74,600 per day during the wave's peak in early January. Hospitalizations are dropping, too, declining 17% statewide in the past 7 days.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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