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NYC to drop outdoor mask mandate for public schools

Students will no longer have to wear masks while they’re outdoors on public school grounds, New York City officials announced Friday morning. The new rules will go into effect Monday, February 28, when students return to classes from winter recess, said Schools Chancellor David Banks in a statement.

Masks will still be required for students and staff while inside school buildings, but the relaxation could be the first of many in the coming days. Federal health officials are expected to loosen mask recommendations for the general public on Friday, and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is scheduled to reconsider the face covering requirement for schools next week.

“Throughout the pandemic, our schools have remained some of the safest spaces for our students and staff, thanks to our gold standard health and safety protocol,” Banks said Friday. “I am so pleased that we are able to make this exciting announcement and safely allow students and staff to remove their masks when outdoors at NYC public schools.”

Mayor Eric Adams spoke about the relaxed masking rules on CBS 880 Friday morning.

“We’re going to pull back on children wearing masks outdoors,” he said. “I want to pull back on all of these mandates, but we want to do it in a smart way.”

Adams would need the state to remove its mandate for indoor masking at schools to do so. State health officials did not call for outdoor masking for students ahead of this school year, and the city’s outgoing rule was a holdover from former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration.

New coronavirus infections have fallen precipitously since the height of the omicron spike in early January.

At the same time, pressure has been mounting on Adams, who helms the nation’s largest public school system with roughly a million students, to begin loosening COVID-19 restrictions in schools, though New York City parents have mixed feelings about the potential end of masking requirements in schools. Governor Kathy Hochul relaxed the state’s masking rules for businesses on February 10, though she left the school mandate in place.

Masking has repeatedly shown to mitigate the risk of the spread of COVID-19, though some parents have raised concerns about the social and emotional impact on children from long-term mask-wearing.

Some Democrat-controlled states have begun to pull back school masking restrictions inside schools themselves, including New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware and Oregon.

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