State Health Department mandates masks for all in K-12 schools

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Aug. 29—ALBANY — Everyone on-campus in K-12 schools will be required to wear masks, as announced by the New York State Department of Health on Friday.

Late Friday, the health department released updated guidance on masks in the form of an emergency regulation, requiring both public and private school students, faculty and staff to wear masks inside school buildings effective immediately.

This move isn't unexpected. On Tuesday, Gov. Kathleen "Kathy" C. Hochul was sworn in, and she said a K-12 school mask mandate, and vaccine requirement, would be imminent.

Masks will also be required of anyone entering school buildings, a requirement already established in many districts statewide.

Many local school districts have already implemented mask mandates on their own, as well as local governments like Lewis County enforcing mandates within county-owned buildings.

A lack of guidance in recent weeks had led to a wave of protest among school-age children's parents. At the Jefferson County Board of Legislators meeting in August, Lisa Williams, an Adams-area resident, asked the board to offer concrete guidance on if masks or vaccines would be required for students.

"We have a little over a month before school starts, and as far as our superintendent says, there's been no guidance given," Ms. Williams said on Aug. 2.

Board of Legislators Chairman Scott A. Gray said it wasn't the county's role to tell schools what to do, and guidance would have to come from the state or federal government, according to public health law.

On Sunday, Mr. Gray said it was good to see Albany step up and offer concrete guidance to schools.

"A standardized approach is best, be it universal mask mandate or they could have established standard conditions that would require masks," he said.

Those conditions could be a certain percentage of cases per building's population, if there was an interest in seeing if masks would be necessary before mandating them, he said.

With the Pfizer vaccine achieving full FDA approval, the state government has been working toward establishing vaccine mandates, or a weekly testing option, for school staff and faculty. There have been no updates on a vaccination mandate since it was first announced.

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