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Masks In Schools Not Going Anywhere

Dr. Kevin Whitaker, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent, speaks about the state’s confusing flip-flop on mask use in schools last weekend. P-J photo by John Whittaker

Masks will continue being worn in schools even after New York’s COVID-19 restrictions end.

It’s just the latest chapter in the confusing flip-flop in state policy that began Friday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s issued a news release that said the state planned to waive the mask mandate for “students outside the building” unless the CDC provided the state with “contrary data or science” before Monday. Then, later Friday, Dr. Howard Zucker, state health commissioner, sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control saying the state planned to align its school and summer camp mask guidance to encourage indoor mask use but not require it for those who are not fully vaccinated, though schools and camps could implement stricter standards on their own.

The Jamestown Public Schools District sent out a text to district parents on Saturday saying mask protocols in the district weren’t changing until there was new official guidance from the state Health Department.

“Over the weekend of course lots of people were very confused,” said Dr. Kevin Whitaker, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent. “Out of the blue we don’t have to have masks. And the state Education Department reached out to the governor’s office and said what’s the deal with this? And the governor’s office said actually, we’re not going to do anything with the guidance, so there’s no reason to change. So the state Education Department said don’t change. And then a press conference, (Monday) at 11:30 a.m. the governor said we’re moving forward and we’re going to leave it to schools to have it be an option to wear masks outside but everything inside remains the same.”

Following Cuomo’s news conference Monday, the state Health Department sent 24 pages of new guidance at 9 p.m. Monday clarifying masks weren’t needed outdoors at sporting events or outdoor classes. For Jamestown students, there is one exception to the outdoor masking guidance — waiting to enter school buildings.

“Now on school grounds, outside, masks are voluntary and optional with the single exception of if students are lining up to get into schools to be screened — you should put your mask on,” Whitaker said.

New York will lift more COVID-19 rules once 70% of adults have at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. Unvaccinated people will still have to wear masks and stay six feet from others on subways and buses, for example. But Cuomo said the state would lift any remaining health screening, contact tracing and cleaning and disinfection rules elsewhere in New York — except in certain settings like large-scale event venues, pre-K to 12 schools, public transit, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, nursing homes, and health care settings.

“So when we hit 70%, just so you know, 68.5% is where we were (Monday) in terms of vaccination, meaning it’s going to happen soon, probably before the end of the school year,” Whitaker said. “With his press conferences there’s trumpets and flowers that everythinig’s going to be lifted — remember that it doesn’t apply to schools.”

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