ALBANY, N.Y. — Unless the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows data that changes things, the New York State Department of Health plans to greatly reduce mask guidelines in schools starting Monday.
Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker wrote a letter to the CDC director expressing concerns about the difference in mask guidelines between schools and summer camps, especially because many of those camps are held at schools.
Right now, the CDC recommends all students and staff wear masks at schools, while at camps, people don't have to if they're fully vaccinated or outside.
Zucker says unless the CDC has data to show it shouldn't happen, the state plans to set these guidelines Monday:
- Indoors, mask use will be strongly encouraged but not required for students, campers, and staff/teachers/counselors who are not fully vaccinated.
- Outdoors, masks are not required; students, campers, and staff/teachers/counselors who are not fully vaccinated are “encouraged” to wear a mask in certain higher-risk circumstances.
- Both indoors and outdoors, students, campers, and staff who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks.
- Schools and camps may choose to implement stricter standards.
As we wait for Monday, local superintendents stressed that we still need further clarification.
"We've seen these types of announcements before, and then we get the guidance document afterward, and then there's some nuance in there that maybe we didn't anticipate," said Michael Cornell, the superintendent of the Hamburg Central School District.
Even once districts receive the guidance, changes likely won't happen overnight.
"We'll wait for the guidance. We'll confer with the Niagara County health director. We'll speak with our fellow superintendents. We'll speak to our boards of education, and then we will give direction to our students, staff, parents and community in the most expeditious way possible," said Mark Laurrie, the superintendent of the Niagara Falls City School District.
Cornell, who is also the president of the Erie-Niagara Superintendents Association, added, "Everybody needs to remember that we operate under the current guidance until we get updated guidance. There's only one thing that replaces guidance and that's new guidance, so we'll wait and see what that guidance says. We'll discuss it as a group. School districts will discuss it internally and every school district will have to make the decision that best fits the needs of their particular school district."
Mask guidelines at schools have been the subject of protests from parents, who have been especially concerned with the hotter weather on the way and the lack of air conditioning in schools.
New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta issued the following statement:
“Announcing on a Friday afternoon that masks will now be optional for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people in schools starting Monday — with only three weeks remaining in the school year — is whiplash-inducing news. Short of any additional guidance from the state or the CDC before Monday, we implore school districts to closely evaluate local conditions and connect with their educators and parents to decide the best course of action for protecting their school community.”