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Hochul: 'I believe that we'll need mask mandates for children to go back to schools'

The lieutenant governor says the New York State Department of Health currently has the authority to implement mask mandates.

QUEENS, N.Y. — While touring a public school in New York City Wednesday morning, Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul addressed the topic of mask mandates.

A few days ago at the Erie County Fair, Hochul said she thinks there should be mandatory mask wearing.

The lieutenant governor now says the New York State Department of Health currently has the authority to implement mask mandates.

However, Hochul says she plans on assessing whether or not they're needed once she becomes governor next week. Hochul went on to say that she believes mask mandates will be needed in order for children to return to schools in the fall.

Hochul will officially become governor at 11:59 p.m. on August 23.

"I believe that we'll need mask mandates for children to go back to schools, and that will have be universal. It will be statewide," Hochul said.

Hochul says local school boards and superintendents are looking to the state for this guidance. She added that there wouldn't be a specific time when the mask mandates are lifted across the state, instead it would be determined by infection rates.

Once again, Hochul stressed the importance of getting more New Yorkers vaccinated.

A spokesperson for the lieutenant governor followed with a statement Wednesday saying: "The Lt. Governor was emphasizing that as soon as she becomes Governor, she will be working with the Department of Health to require masks in school as a way to boost the safety of students, teachers and support staff."

The state Health Department has not issued guidance for schools, other than to say they should follow CDC guidance, which recommends universal indoor masking for everyone in grades K-12 regardless of vaccination status.

Many Republican lawmakers believe without emergency powers, the state cannot impose a mask mandate in schools and that school leaders and health departments should be involved.  

A 2 On Your Side reported asked, the CDC recommends universal mask wearing in schools, do you believe in that? 

"Again, those are recommendations those are not mandates and I think this is a local level [decision]," State Senator George Borello.

Assmeblyman Angelo Morinello: "The information out seems to be more of a knee-jerk reaction without enough specifics to make that decision."

REPORTER: Some of your colleagues, they have been adamantly opposed to a mask mandate. I want to ask you: masks, they were worn last year, at the beginning of the school year. Why not this time around as well? 

"Because the circumstances are somewhat different large percentage have been vaccinated," Morinello said.

Republican Assemblyman Steve Hawley issued this statement: 

"The decision to institute mask mandates should be left to local health departments," Hawley said. "A collaborative approach between municipal governments, school districts, local departments of health and state officials is needed moving forward."

Hochul did indicate that mask mandates could be lifted in certain areas, depending on COVID data. 

State Senator Sean Ryan, a Democrat says he supports a mask mandate in schools and issued this statement: 

“Our dual priorities are getting students back in school, and keeping them safe. It's important to remember that kids under 12 are not currently approved to be vaccinated. Therefore, universal masking in schools – as recommended by the CDC – will help to keep everyone safe, and I believe this is the smart approach. The legislature would not need to grant additional powers to make this happen, because the Department of Health already has existing authority under Section 16 of the Public Health Law to implement a mask mandate in schools.”

Republican State Senator Rob Ortt issued this statement: 

“As I have said for months, public health decisions on sensitive issues like masking children in schools should be made at the local level and guided by medical science, not political science. The State Health Department, still somehow led by an uncredible Commissioner who helped orchestrate Governor Cuomo’s disgraceful cover up of nursing home deaths, should not be in any way dictating a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Republican Assemblyman David DiPietro issued this statement: "Unequivocally no. How many corrupt governors have to resign in disgrace for people to finally recognize that granting them unfettered power over our lives is a mistake? Gov. Cuomo used emergency powers to do nothing but put millions of dollars in his own pocket, cover up the truth and kill 15,000 nursing home residents. The office of the governor is far too powerful in this state as is and I will oppose any measure to circumvent the state constitution.“

The Erie County Health Department says while it is still working on guidance for schools, its recommendations on mask wearing will be similar to the CDC's.  

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