Hochul calls for a school mask mandate and local officials have very different reactions

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(WETM) – Governor Hochul said she wants to impose a school mask mandate in New York State. Many parents in the area have voiced their concerns, both in favor and against masking, and even local officials seem to have differing opinions.

Since New York is no longer in a state of emergency, Governor Hochul cannot officially impose a school mask mandate herself. But, in her address yesterday, she said she is directing the health department to instate a mask requirement. This would make it mandatory for all New York Schools to comply.

Chemung County Executive, Chris Moss thinks the decision on whether to mask in schools should be left to the counties. He says that different areas of the state have different infection rates, and questions if lower infection rate areas need to be masking children in schools.

“Right now I don’t see the need for it in Chemung County, but obviously it looks like we are going to be trumped by the state government,” said Moss. “I would hope at some point it will get drilled down to be a county decision or a regional decision because a one size fits all…last year it didn’t work and it’s not going to work this year.”

Chemung County has been at high risk for COVID-19 transmission for over a week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Moss says that if there are orders from the state, the county will follow.

The CDC also reports Steuben County as an area of high risk, but the county’s Public Health Director, Darlene Smith, says that this is a step “we can all take” to help stop the spread of COVID.

“Our students who are just too young, are not eligible for the vaccine… so the masking is just about their only protection from the Delta Variant… It worked before and it can work again,” said Smith.

The New York Department of Health was supposed to issue guidance to schools buy they decided to leave that responsibility to local officials when there was only one month until school started. Smith says that she and other local officials have been “scrambling” to try and come up with a plan.

“We were promised [guidance] all summer long by the New York Department of Health and we just learned a few weeks ago that they weren’t going to issue it to us,” said Smith. “This guidance is going to be a good foundation and framework for how we proceed.”

With two weeks until school starts, most school districts in the area have still not issued guidance. The late notice from the Department of Health paired with possible new guidance from the new governor has delayed school officials from announcing anything just yet.

Elmira Heights is one of the school districts that is waiting for guidance from Governor Hochul. Elmira Heights School District, Michael Gill, says they will follow a mask mandate if it is instated.

“If everybody is masked we may not have to quarantine like we did last year… We lost weeks [of school] at our middle school due to that quarantining,” said Gill.

The CDC has recommended masking for everyone in schools, and several states including California and Connecticut already have school mask mandates in place. Hochul also included in her announcement that she wants to institute a vaccine or testing requirement for all employees in schools. 

Local officials are hoping to get guidance from the New York Health Department by the end of this week.

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