Cuomo: Masks must still be worn in schools, but outdoor mandate lifted

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Tuesday, June 8, 2021
Reversal sparks confusion over school mask mandate in New York
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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo attempted to clear up confusion regarding in-school mask mandates for students and staff, after a reversal from the state department of health sparked confusion and outrage.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo attempted to clear up confusion regarding in-school mask mandates for students and staff, after a reversal from the state department of health sparked confusion and outrage.

Facemasks will no longer be mandated for outdoor activities, Cuomo said, but local districts may make the decision to still require them.

After saying Friday that an announcement was coming to drop in-school mask mandates, the state Department of Health walked back its suggestion that vaccinated children would be able to take of their face coverings.

Health officials said they had not yet received an OK from the CDC, and on Monday, Cuomo said the CDC would not be changing guidance for wearing masks, therefore they are still required inside schools.

"We spoke with CDC," Cuomo said. "They have policy guidelines for schools nationwide, so their policy guidance is for the lowest positivity rate state and the highest. They are not going to change their guidance for several weeks."

On Sunday, the Department of Education sent a letter to school administrators informing them that while they have not heard back from the CDC, mask requirements will remain.

Camps are also allowed to make individual decisions regarding outdoor masks.

"In New York state, we are going to modify CDC guidance and allow schools to choose no mask outside for children," Cuomo said. "In other words, children wear masks in school, inside. When they are outside the school building, in recess, etc., it's hot, they are running around, there is no mandate for masks outside. We spoke to CDC, and CDC has no objection to that and is fine with that."

Cuomo said virtually all restrictions can be lifted once 70% of New Yorkers have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

As for schools, educators and officials expressed concerns over the reversal, even as others were surprised over the initial 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," Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said. "It's well past time for this decision to be put in the hands of parents and educators."

Even with the backtracking, at least three Long Island school districts -- Sachem, Massapequa and Patchogue-Medford -- initially made masks optional on Monday, though all three districts reversed that decision following the announcement.

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Patchogue-Medford Superintendent Donna Jones said the district will follow all state health department guidelines, including mandatory mask wearing indoors, but that the district has not required students to wear masks outdoors for the past several weeks due to the hot weather. She said parents were notified.

A group of parents held a rally in Woodbury on Monday evening protesting the new guidelines.

"We're past the point of tolerating this child abuse," said Barbara Abboud, of Farmingdale. "It's 90 degrees here today. Why are we keeping our kids in a mask?"

Rose Stein, of Massapequa, said politicians are using children as pawns.

"Our politicians need to stop using our children," she said. "They need to stop using our children for their political platforms."

Kevin Smith, of Lindenhurst, who runs the group Long Island Loud Majority, said he believes the new guidelines make politicians look hypocritical.

"It always blows my mind that the people who are telling you you have to wear a mask are always doing it without a mask on in an air conditioned building," he said.

Members of the Sachem School Board held an emergency meeting on Sunday and voted to implement the guidance sent by New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker late Friday afternoon.

But by Monday afternoon, they announced that the latest guidance from the governor means that starting Tuesday, students visitors and staff will have to wear masks when in school and on school buses.

Also Sunday, the Massapequa school board voted unanimously to follow the New York State Department of Health guidelines allowing mask-wearing to be optional.

However, officials posted a message online Monday evening, announcing that all students, staff and visitors must wear masks indoors.

"Late this afternoon, we received a phone call as well as written correspondence from the Governor's office directing the district to reinstate the indoor mask mandate effective Tuesday, June 8, 2021. The Governor's representative made it clear that the district would incur sanctions for non-compliance which would include but not be limited to monetary fines, school closures and the ability to operate in person. Based on these directives, effective immediately, all students, staff and visitors must wear masks indoors. The mask mandate also extends to school buses. Please note that the wearing of masks for outdoor activities is not required. The Board of Education has no other option at this point than to comply with the law and directives of the Governor of New York State."

The majority of school districts on Long Island decided to keep the mask mandates in place on Monday, including the Huntington School District.

"With less than three weeks remaining in the school year, the timing of changes to state guidance is concerning, as we clearly do not wish the final weeks of classes and events compromised for any student or staff member," Huntington Superintendent James Polansky said in a message on the district's website.

Teachers' unions urged schools to connect with educators and parents to make the best decision on masks for their school communities.

No matter what the state ends up doing, New York City schools are not dropping the mask mandate in the classroom.

Meantime, Dr. Anthony Fauci and First Lady Jill Biden appeared on "Live with Kelly and Ryan" Monday amid a push for everyone to get vaccinated.

On Sunday, the pair visited a vaccination center at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, where children as young as 12 were getting shots.

Dr. Fauci has yet address released emails from early 2020, some of which seem to contradict guidelines he had been giving publicly at the time.

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