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The governor of New York State has seen enough of a decline in coronavirus rates to make the decision to end the statewide mask mandate in schools, which will take effect this week.

On Sunday (February 27th), Governor Kathy Hochul announced that the mandate would be lifted after consulting with health and educational experts and taking declining COVID-19 trends into account. The lifting of the mandate would take place throughout the state on March 2nd. “With more New Yorkers getting vaccinated, and the steady decline over the past several weeks in cases and hospitalizations from Omicron, we are now entering a new phase of the pandemic. Because New Yorkers have stepped up, we can confidently remove the statewide mask requirement in our schools,” she said in a statement released through her office. “This is a huge step forward for our kids and communities and I am grateful to the students, educators, and parents for their dedication to keeping us all safe—we’ve reached this milestone because of your hard work.”

The governor did stress that individual counties and cities that are experiencing higher COVID-19 transmission rates had the option to continue the mask mandate and that parents and guardians would still have the right to send their children to school masked up. She also made it a point to state that there should be no bullying of others who still will wear masks. “We will not stand for any bullying or ostracization or harassment for an individual or business who chooses to wear a mask as we’re still going through this,” Hochul remarked. “And we are going to remain vigilant. We are going to continue to distribute masks, distribute test kits and continue our vaccination strategy to make sure there’s plenty of opportunities to get vaccinated and boosted.”

The news comes as New York’s health department revealed that the state saw a 98% decline in coronavirus cases since the peak of the Omicron variant and an 80% decline in pediatric hospitalizations. This is in addition to the state’s seven-day positivity rate falling below 2% and hospitalizations overall dropping below 2,000 for the first time since November 14th, 2021. This sets the stage for New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who on Sunday expressed his intent to lift the mandate in schools in a week. “If we see no unforeseen spikes and our numbers continue to show a low level of risk, New York City will remove the indoor mask mandate for public school children, effective next Monday, March 7,” he said.