New York to alter mask guidelines for schools Monday

Posted at 3:19 PM, Jun 04, 2021

ALBANY, N.Y. (WKBW) — New York announced it plans to alter mask guidelines for schools on Monday.

New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker issued a letter to CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky about the state's concern over the consistency of the CDC guidance on mask wearing between schools and summer camps.

For K-12 schools the CDC currently recommends a requirement for “consistent and correct use of well-fitting face masks with proper filtration by all students, teachers, and staff". Zucker says it does not make a distinction between indoors versus outdoors and does not address those who are vaccinated.

For summer camps the CDC currently strongly encourages indoor mask use for those who are not fully vaccinated and says no matter vaccination status, masks are not needed outdoors. Although masks are encouraged outdoors and in certain higher-risk circumstances for those who are not fully vaccinated. The CDC says those who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks indoors or outdoors.

Zucker says many camps take place on school grounds and serve school-age children. The end of the school year and youth camp season both occur in June which is why the state plans to align mask guidelines for schools and youth camps Monday.

"If there is any data or science that you are aware of that contradicts moving forward with this approach, please let me know as soon as possible. We plan to make this guidance effective on Monday June 7," the letter says.

The new guidelines are listed below:

  • 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.

New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta issued the following statement Friday on the state's planned change in guidelines:

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.

Niagara Falls Superintendent Mark Laurrie said he'll make a final decision after speaking with the county's public health director. He expects to speak with staff Monday, and notify parents Tuesday.

He said masks will still be encouraged, but anticipates they will not be mandated. He said warm weather will be a big factor, and is most concerned with two buildings that don't have air conditioning.

"We're gonna be a little bit more liberal outdoors without masks for sure," Laurrie said. "Indoors, again, we'll look at it on a case by case basis, we'll look at it with respect to weather. If it's very warm I'm not gonna have a child suffer."

He said student vaccination status will not play a role because it's unclear how many are vaccinated.

7 Eyewitness News has reached out to Buffalo Public Schools to see if it's updating its mask policy in response to the guidance, we have not received an answer as of Friday night.