Mask Mandate Upheld As Judge Grants Stay; Hochul Applauds Ruling

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LONG ISLAND, NY — A statewide mask mandate remains in effect Tuesday after an appeals court judge issued a stay following a ruling by a Nassau County Supreme Court judge Monday that declared Gov. Kathy Hochul's mask protocols unconstitutional.

The state immediately filed an appeal and New York State Attorney General Letitia James filed a motion to stay the ruling.

According to the New York Times, On Tuesday afternoon, Justice Robert J. Miller, New York State appeals court judge, granted a stay, meaning that the mask rule is now back in effect, at least temporarily, with another hearing slated for Friday.

Hochul spoke out after the stay was granted: "As governor, my top priority is protecting the people of this state. These measures are critical tools to prevent the spread of COVID-19, make schools and businesses safe, and save lives. I commend the attorney general for her defense of the health and safety of New Yorkers, and applaud the appellate division, second department for siding with common sense and granting an interim stay to keep the state's important masking regulations in place," Hochul said. "We will not stop fighting to protect New Yorkers, and we are confident we will continue to prevail."

On Tuesday, during a coronavirus briefing during which Hochul said New York has seen an 86 percent drop in positivity over the past two-and-a-half weeks, with all regions declining, Hochul spoke out on the controversy and the Jan. 24 decision by Judge Thomas Rademaker. The decision said that the state's mask ruling was "promulgated and enacted unlawfully by an executive branch state agency and therefore void and unenforceable as a matter of law."

On that ruling by Rademaker, Hochul said: "We disagree 100 percent with the conclusion of the judge. In his opinion, the Department of Health did not have the authority to protect public health."

However, Hochul said, a judge in Albany came up with the opposite conclusion.

Hochul said she believed it would be resolved shortly and encouraged parents and students to "keep doing what they are doing. The last thing I want to see is a different trend because people gave up."

The governor said she can't wait for the day to say masks are history but that day could only come when it was safe to lift the protocols. "I will not do it a day before," she said.

The restrictions, she added, are what have allowed New York students to return to school safely, compared to some areas of the country where the measures were not as "aggressive" and children were sick, with education disrupted. "I don't want that to happen here," she said.

When asked what metrics she would look at to lift the mask ruling, Hochul said that she would look at positivity rates, pediatric hospitalization metrics, and the number of children vaccinated. "If we can get those numbers up, I'll feel better," she said.

Several Long Island districts sent out letters Monday night saying that masks are optional on Tuesday, including Sachem, East Islip and Plainedge.

But on Tuesday, confusion and anger erupted at some school districts. During a press briefing that in one district in Oswego County, students were locked out for not wearing masks, one reporter said at Hochul's press briefing.

In Riverhead, 10 students who refused to wear masks were "reassigned"; parents were called and a community member called police, the district said.

Rademaker's decision also said that it does not "opine on the efficacy, need or requirement of masks as a means or tool in dealing with the COVID-19 virus." The issue is only whether the rule was properly enacted, the decision said.

Also, the issue at hand is not a challenge to any executive order issued by Hochul, the decision said, but is a challenge to a "rule" enacted by New York State Commissioner of Health Dr. Mary Bassett and enforced by Hochul.

Ronald Masera, superintendent of the Center Moriches School District, tweeted a copy of the appeal that he said keeps the mask mandate in all New York State schools in place

Monday's decision overturning mask protocols came after new Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman signed a trio of executive orders allowing school districts to end the mask mandates if they chose to do so.

"A judge declared that Gov. Hochul's mask mandate is unconstitutional, deeming mandates invalid statewide," Blakeman wrote on Facebook Monday, calling the decision "a huge win."

After the stay was granted Tuesday, Blakeman wrote: "It’s time for Governor Hochul to stand down and stop disrespecting the rights of students and parents. Mask decisions should be made by families and school boards who have their finger on the pulse of their communities — not Albany politicians. Nassau is normal again, and our county will continue to lead the way as an example for the rest of the state to follow."

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R- Shirley) weighed in on Twitter. "Our schools and local communities in New York need more local control and less Hochul control!"

On Monday, the State Education Department sent a letter to school superintendents statewide, stating that "schools must continue to follow the mask rule," according to a PIX 11 report.

When asked about the "challenge" to her authority after the Massapequa Board of Education's vote to end the mask mandate in all schools effective Feb. 21, following Blakeman's executive order, Hochul spoke out.

"I'm not a pushover," she said. "Personally, as a parent, I find it phenomenal that apparently, people are willing to play politics with children's lives."

She added that once the state mask mandate lapses, no school district will be expected to follow those protocols. The measure could be lifted before Feb. 21, she said, adding that she is using the element of time to assess the situation.

"One of the best things I look forward to is the day I can say the requirements are suspended and that they did the job they were meant to do and kept New Yorkers safe," Hochul said.

David Samartino, who organized a rally in Eastport in June for Eastport-South Manor Central School District parents, spoke out on the mask issue Tuesday before the stay was granted: "I'm happy that my children will have a day of normalcy in school. They can watch other kids laugh, see their teacher smile; they might even see a student get upset and try to console them. They can run inside the gym and inhale fresh air, they can see their friends in the hall and smile as they pass."

He added that there were some "pushing to destroy it. They'll make sure those muzzles are back on their faces."

This article originally appeared on the North Fork Patch

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