New York's statewide masking requirement in schools will be lifted by March 2, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Sunday, citing a dramatic drop in COVID-19 infections and new federal guidelines. Hours later, New York City Mayor Eric Adams said he's considering lifting vaccine mandates on restaurants, bars, and theaters by early next week if infections and hospitalizations continue their downward trend, the AP reports. A mask mandate on the city's approximately 1 million schoolchildren could also be lifted, Adams said in a statement. The decision won’t come until Friday, following a full week of classes after students in the country’s largest school system return from a weeklong vacation, he said.
The pair of announcements signaled an important turning point for the city and state, once an epicenter of the global pandemic. “The day has come,” Hochul said at a press conference in Albany. New guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says most Americans can now safely take a break from wearing masks, including students in schools. “That is why I feel very confident that this is the time to lift the mask requirements,” Hochul said. As of Saturday, state officials said the 7-day average for new cases was fewer than 1,671 for the first time since late July. Other metrics have also fallen rapidly, including hospitalizations and deaths.
The CDC guidelines for other indoor spaces aren’t binding, meaning cities and institutions even in areas of low risk may set their own rules. Hochul said counties and cities could keep their own mandates in place, and parents could still choose to send their kids to school in masks. The new rules also apply to children 2 years and older in childcare facilities. Hochul said Adams was consulted before her announcement, including a conversation earlier Sunday. Earlier this month, Hochul let a broad mask mandate for most indoor settings expire, but said the schools requirement would remain in place. She had promised to revisit the schools question by the first week of March. Masks are still required in some places, including public transit, homeless shelters, jails and prisons, adult care facilities, and healthcare settings.
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