After hours of confusion and outrage from parents across New York, a quick reversal by the State Health Department will ensure students continue to wear masks inside the classroom.
The pivot came after an announcement on Friday that the mask mandate would be dropped for vaccinated students the following week. However, on Sunday, New York education officials sent a letter to districts clarifying mask guidelines would not be updated until more guidance was given from the CDC.
“We spoke with the CDC, and since they’re not going to change their guidance for several weeks in New York State, we’re going to modify the CDC guidance and allow schools to choose no mask outside for children,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “We’ll leave that up to the local school district and we spoke to the CDC, which has no objection.”
Some schools across the Twin Tiers called for emergency meetings and sent out calls to parents and guardians letting them know of the change before the reversal was announced.
The decision to continue enforcing masks left some parents and local leaders across the Twin Tiers confused and, at times, outraged.
“Parents are very upset because they’re getting mixed messages from the state which isn’t anything new since the pandemic,” Chemung County Executive Chris Moss said. “There were 100 different ways this could have been done and the state chose the wrong way.”
Moss said there was also confusion because the guidance specifically came from the New York Department of Public Health.
“We’ve been told consistently since the beginning that Department on Public Health guidance trumps anything from New York State education,” Moss said.
“We tell them on Friday ‘you know, the masks aren’t gonna be needed’ and then less than 48 hours later, before school starts we’re gonna tell them that they are gonna be needed,” Stuben County Executive Jack Wheeler said. “It’s confusion that could have been avoided.”
Parents tell 18 News they understand both sides of the argument.
“I can actually see where they’re coming from,” Aniece Clinton said. “It’s a difficult decision.”
Health experts continue to emphasize that mask wearing, especially for those who are not yet vaccinated against Covid-19, saves lives.
“”As cases come down, people who are not vaccinated are more vulnerable,” NBC News Medical Director Dr. Kavita Patel, NBC News Medical Contributor said. “That is a product of more sticky variants and some relaxation of the actual mitigation measures, meaning we’re putting kids into group activities, but they’re not wearing masks.”
As for when the mask mandate in schools could be lifted, Gov. Cuomo said more guidance is expected from the state and the health department in the coming weeks.
“The numbers show that the risk of transmission by children is extremely low, especially in this state, which has an extremely low positivity rate,” Gov. Cuomo said in a press conference. “We have a disconnect right now between the school guidance and the camp guidance, and it’s important to rectify it because if people don’t think the rules are logical, then they’re not going to want to follow the rules.”