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Directs Department of Health to institute universal mask requirement in all schools
√ Governor pursuing options to mandate vaccines for school employees
√ Launches COVID-19 testing in schools program using $585 million in federal funds in partnership with counties and BOCES
√ Establishes additional back-to-school testing program in partnership with US Department of Health and Human Services, Rite Aid and BioReference; acquires millions of masks for students and educators
On her first day in office, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a new plan to help ensure a “safe, productive return to schools this fall in the midst of rising COVID-19 numbers fueled by the delta variant.” As part of this plan, Hochul has directed the New York State Department of Health to institute a universal mask requirement in all schools, public and private, as determined necessary at the discretion of the commissioner. The Department of Health will issue the requirement through regulatory action established by the Public Health and Health Planning Council.
Hochul will also pursue options to mandate vaccines for school employees or require weekly testing in the absence of vaccines, and will continue to work with the Department of Health, education stakeholders and the Legislature on establishing the mandate.
"As governor, my priorities are now the priorities of the people of New York – and right now that means fighting the delta variant," Hochul said. "My No. 1 priority is getting children back to school and protecting the environment so they can learn safely. I am immediately directing the Department of Health to institute universal masking for anyone entering our schools, and we are launching a back-to-school COVID-19 testing program to make testing for students and staff widely available and convenient. We are also working to require vaccinations for all school personnel with an option to test out weekly, and we are going to accomplish all of this by working in partnership with all levels of government."
To help ensure testing is available to students as they return to school, Hochul is using $335 million in federal funds to launch a new COVID-19 testing in schools program in partnership with local health departments and BOCES in New York state outside of New York City. In addition, New York City has received $225 million directly to initiate a COVID-19 testing in schools program there, for a total of $585 million in federal funding in New York state to support these programs.
Hochul also launched an additional back-to-school COVID-19 testing program in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Rite Aid and BioReference to make testing more widely available for New York state public school students before the start of the 2021-22 school year.
Testing appointments will be available to New York students in grades K-12 at the 115 Rite Aid drive-through locations. Students are required to preregister online and schedule a time slot for testing. Students aged 17 and under must have parental or legal guardian consent and be accompanied by a guardian at time of testing in the drive-thru. Digital results will be delivered to parents for students to bring to school. Hochul’s team said, “COVID-19 testing is voluntary and will be provided at no cost to the student's family nor to the school district.”
In addition to these new testing programs, New York has available more than 4.3 million child-sized clothed face masks, about 10 million adult-sized clothed face masks and almost 55 million nonsurgical face masks to provide to students and teachers in schools across the state.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, "Our highest priority is helping to ensure the health and safety of our students and educators as we work together to combat COVID-19. Since early July, COVID-19 cases in New York have risen 10-fold, and 95% of sequenced positive cases were confirmed to be delta variant. Based on incidence and prevalence, our findings demonstrate the necessity of layered prevention strategies, including this mask requirement. While a simple measure of prevention, requiring masks now is crucial for protecting the health of our children and ensuring we can get our students back in their schools this fall."
Commissioner of Education Dr. Betty A. Rosa said, "Since the onset of the pandemic, the health and safety of our students, teachers and school personnel has been our top priority. With the increase in COVID variant cases around the state, Gov. Hochul's action, taken after consultation with educators, demonstrates her commitment to the health and wellbeing of our students and the importance of keeping our schools open. The State Education Department supports a consistent application of masking requirements in schools, easing the return to school with a common line of defense against the spread of the COVID variant. I look forward to continuing our collaboration with Gov. Hochul in support of our shared focus on expanded educational opportunity for all New Yorkers."
Board of Regents Chancellor Lester W. Young Jr. said, "The board and I applaud Gov. Hochul for supporting and protecting students and teachers alike with a statewide mask mandate for schools. We must do everything in our power to limit the transmission of COVID in our schools, so students continue to receive in-person instruction throughout the school year. Requiring students, teachers and staff to wear masks is the right thing to do for all New Yorkers."
New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta said, “Gov. Kathy Hochul brings a breath of fresh air to Albany, and she already is taking decisive action to bolster health and safety in our schools. We support universal mask wearing as part of a layered mitigation strategy that also includes robust COVID testing, contract tracing, proper ventilation and other strategies recommended by public health experts. We also support the governor’s move to require regular COVID testing for school staff who are not yet vaccinated. It’s critical that educators continue to have a voice in the implementation of vaccine requirements and other COVID policies at the local level.”