NY school mask mandate could be ending, state COVID positivity under 10%

Coronavirus update for NYC
NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- There is more good news Friday in New York's battle against COVID-19 and particularly the dominant omicron variant, as the state's positivity rate has dropped below 10% for the first time in over a month.

Governor Kathy Hochul says she expects school districts will no longer enforce mask wearing in classes once the statewide mask mandate ends.

"That's actually what we expect," she said. "When the state mandate lapses, I expect all school districts will say, 'We don't have to do this anymore.'"

It is currently slated to end next month, though it could be extended.

Referring to a vote taken by the Massapequa Board of Education Thursday night indicating mandatory mask wearing will expire with the state mandate, Hochul said she was a bit confused.

"I'm not sure what they're trying to say on that front," she said. "But news flash, when the state requirements lapse, everybody cannot follow them any longer."

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In the meantime, though, she said she is having conversations with the state Department of Education to make sure mandates are being followed.

"Personally, as a parent, I find it phenomenally disappointing that people are willing to play politics with children's lives," she said.

Hochul said her sister and son both have COVID right now, but are vaccinated and are not seriously sick.

New York's statewide positivity is 9.75%, dropping below 10% for the first time in at least a month, while the number of new cases statewide was reported to be 28,296, down from more than 90,000 earlier this month.

"That's a 66.6% drop in two weeks," Hochul said, amid hopes the omicron surge is waning. "We have been waiting for this moment. We are finally trending in the direction. We want to go down, and that is downward, downward, downward."

But with another 154 deaths, she said we are not out of the woods yet.

"This is still to be taken very seriously," she said. "We are not letting our foot off the pedal until we can declare we are in a place we can manage without all the restrictions."

Meanwhile, there is emerging evidence that omicron may have been in the New York area well before the world even knew it existed.

The CDC found traces of the variant in New York City's wastewater on November 21, one day before it was announced by South African scientists and 10 days before the first U.S. case was reported.

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Infections in New York City have dropped 46% in the last week, but the city still has the nation's highest death rate.

As far as the indoor masking requirement that is set to expire on February 1 in the state, the governor said she needs until January 31 to reassess.

"At the right time, assess where we are," she said.

Hochul also said that "Test to Stay" is not an option for kids ages 2-5 because they are not yet eligible for the COVID vaccine, but she added that she is also dissatisfied with the percentage of children ages 5 and up that are vaccinated.

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