Gov. Kathy Hochul, in her first formal address as New York’s governor, confirmed what many parents and school officials had been expecting: Anyone inside a school must wear a mask to protect against the spread of COVID-19.
Ms. Hochul, who was formally sworn in as the state’s 57th governor at midnight, said in a virtual address Tuesday afternoon that she’s immediately directing the Department of Health to institute universal masking for anyone entering a school building. She said the top priority is to get children back to school in a safe environment.
The Shelter Island School District has already issued an order that all students, staff and visitors must mask up within the school building.
“Later this week, I’ll announce a series of school related policies,” the governor said. “They’ll be concise and consistent, giving the school districts what they have been asking for.”
The governor also said vaccinations should be required for all school personnel, with an option for weekly testing.
“To accomplish this in New York, we need partnerships at all levels of government,” she said. “And I’m working now on getting this done.”
New York will also launch a back-to-school COVID-19 testing program to make testing “widely available and convenient,” the governor said.
With school set to begin the 2021-22 year in just over a week, districts have been finalizing plans on whether to require masks or not, at times leading to contentious back-and-forths at school board meetings. The outgoing governor, Andrew Cuomo, had left the discretion up to individual districts.
But after Mr. Cuomo announced his resignation two weeks ago, it became clear the change in leadership could lead to a new directive. Ms. Hochul had been asked several times over the past two weeks about masks in schools, including Friday on Long Island, and she strongly alluded to requiring them, but would not commit to that until taking office.
Also on the COVID-19 front, Ms. Hochul said increasing vaccination rates will be a key priority. She noted how the FDA on Monday formally approved the Pfizer vaccine and too many residents still remain unvaccinated. She said residents can expect more vaccine requirements following the FDA approval.