New York plans to loosen school mask rules as soon as Monday

New York plans to loosen school mask rules as soon as Monday
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New York plans to loosen its requirements for students, teachers and staff to wear masks in schools as soon as Monday, its top health official wrote in a Friday letter.

New York State Commissioner of Health Howard Zucker announced the plans in a letter to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle WalenskyRochelle WalenskyIt's time we recognize our mutual vulnerability Vaccine boosters: Why the US should listen to Israel Overnight Health Care: Average daily COVID infections topped last summer's peak, CDC says | US reaches 70 percent vaccination goal a month after Biden's target | White House says CDC can't renew eviction ban MORE, saying the state wanted to align summer camp and school mask guidelines. 

Under the relaxed restrictions, masks will be “strongly encouraged but not required” indoors for students and staff who are not fully vaccinated. People will not be required to wear face coverings outdoors, although those who are not fully vaccinated will be “encouraged” to put on a mask in “higher-risk circumstances.”

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The state intends to tell fully vaccinated individuals that they don’t need to wear a mask indoors or outdoors, although Zucker notes schools and camps could decide “to implement stricter standards.”

“If there is any data or science that you are aware of that contradicts moving forward with this approach, please let me know as soon as possible,” he added. 

Zucker wrote that the state “strives for consistency across and between settings with similar risk levels and populations” before pointing out the differences between the CDC’s mask guidelines for schools and summer camps. He cited that many camps are held on school grounds and with children who are the same age. 

The CDC first relaxed mask recommendations last month, saying that fully vaccinated people do not have to wear a mask in most indoor and outdoor settings. But the agency clarified days later that it still recommended masks in schools, citing that most children are not fully vaccinated. 

Last week, the CDC loosened its recommendations for masks at summer camps, saying that unvaccinated campers are “strongly encouraged” to wear masks outdoors when close to others for long periods of time and indoors. Vaccinated adolescents and staff do not have to wear masks at all under the new guidance. 

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In schools, the guidelines do not distinguish between mask wearing outside or inside or between fully vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, Zucker noted. 

Schools have been under pressure to relax COVID-19 restrictions and return to full in-person learning, with some proponents citing that cases of children developing serious illness or dying from COVID-19 are rarer than adults. 

But the CDC released a study showing increased rates of COVID-19 hospitalizations among adolescents 12 to 17 years old, prompting Walensky to urge parents to get their eligible children vaccinated to avoid illness.  

"I am deeply concerned by the numbers of hospitalized adolescents and saddened to see the number of adolescents who required treatment in intensive care units or mechanical ventilation," Walensky said in a Friday statement.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only one authorized for minors, with anyone 12 and older eligible to get their shots.