Immigrant advocates applaud Hochul’s school masking mandate

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks to reporters after a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony at the state Capitol, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, in Albany, N.Y.
Associated Press/Hans Pennink

The New York Immigration Coalition (NYIT), an umbrella organization of immigration advocacy groups in the state, has applauded Gov. Kathy Hochul for mandating the wearing of masks in schools.

“Thank you, Gov. Hochul, for recognizing the importance of masking for protecting the health and safety of students and school personnel,” said Murad Awawdeh, NYIT’s executive director, on Tuesday.

“But to truly protect the health of the entire school community, the governor must include a universal vaccine mandate for all school staff and students 12 years and older who are eligible to receive the vaccine,” he added. “It’s the right thing to do to ensure that our schools stay open, our students and school staff remain healthy, and our communities can combat the Delta variant.”

During her first day as New York’s Governor, Hochul directed the Department of Health to make masks mandatory for anyone entering New York’s public schools.

The announcement follows Mayor Bill De Blasio’s order that New York City teachers and other Department of Education staff receive their first shot no later than Sept. 27.

Hochul announced the new, comprehensive 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, Gov. 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,” said the Office of the Governor in a statement. “The Department of Health will issue the requirement through regulatory action established by the Public Health and Health Planning Council.

“Gov. 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,” it added.

Hochul said that, as governor, “my priorities are now the priorities of the people of New York – and right now that means fighting the Delta variant.

“My number one priority is getting children back to school and protecting the environment so they can learn safely,” she said. “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,” she added.

To help ensure testing is available to students as they return to school, the Governor’s Office said 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, the office said 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 US 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 2021-2022 school year.

In addition to these new testing programs, New York State has available more than 4.3 million child-sized clothed face masks, about 10 million adult-sized clothed face masks and almost 55 million non-surgical face masks to provide to students and teachers in schools across the state.

“Our highest priority is helping to ensure the health and safety of our students and educators as we work together to combat COVID-19,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. “Since early July, COVID-19 cases in New York have risen 10-fold and 95 percent 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,” he added. “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,” she added. “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,” Rosa continued.

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