CATSKILL — Greene County lawmakers are calling on Gov. Kathy Hochul to drop the school mask mandate and requirements for COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated school staff members.
When Hochul lifted the mask mandate for businesses statewide on Feb. 9, the governor announced that she would revisit the mask mandate for schools during the first week of March.
With Greene County schools scheduled to be on winter break from Feb. 21-25, the Legislature sent the governor a letter in the hopes that the process could be sped up and that the mask mandate could be dropped in advance of classes resuming Feb. 28.
In a letter signed by Greene County Legislature Vice Chairman Matt Luvera, R-Catskill, on behalf of the full Legislature, the county asked Hochul to drop the mandate.
“As the governing body of Greene County in upstate New York, we are respectfully requesting an urgent end to your mandates that all school students and staff must wear masks in response to the threat of COVID-19 and its variants, as well as your mandate for ongoing testing of unvaccinated school staff,” the letter states. “The mask mandate, which began during your predecessor’s reign, has gone on for far too long and has interfered and severely affected the lives of our youngest and most innocent residents, our children. We firmly believe that mask-wearing for this length of time can cause serious physical, psychological and developmental harm which outweigh any remaining benefits to mask wearing.”
Luvera said Thursday the letter was prepared in consultation with Greene County school district superintendents.
“It came from a meeting with our County Administrator Shaun Groden and all of the superintendents of Greene County schools,” he said. “They were meeting pretty regularly during COVID and they had come to him with some concerns about the mask mandate and testing unvaccinated staff. They really felt that it was a burden on them. The legislators agreed and our county administrator agreed, so we decided to put together a letter to the governor asking her to respectfully consider ending this in our county and in the state.”
Luvera said he was optimistic that Hochul would drop the mask mandate after she reviews the issue.
“I’m very hopeful,” he said. “I’m hoping that she takes our letter into consideration and ends it when we come back from our winter vacation.”
The Legislature’s letter contends that prolonged mask wearing in schools could be impeding students socially and their interactions with teachers.
“Masks hinder necessary communication between students and teachers, bus drivers and other students,” the letter states. “How are children supposed to learn academics from their teachers and socially interact with their peers without being able to hear their words clearly or see their facial expressions? As much as masks are touted to be a health and safety issue, where is the safety when a child is crossing a road, in a rural county such as ours, and cannot hear the bus driver’s instructions?”
The letter concludes by asking the governor to expedite the review process for the mask mandate.
“We understand you will be reviewing data after the school break in February in order to make further determination regarding mask-wearing in schools and continued testing of unvaccinated school staff,” the letter states. “The logic in this escapes us, as it would be more appropriate and efficient to make this determination prior to the students and staff returning to school. Realizing schools throughout New York State have different dates for February winter breaks, we are appealing to you to end the State requirement of wearing masks in New York State schools, as well as end the State requirement of scheduled testing of unvaccinated school staff, effective on or before Friday, Feb. 25.”
The Legislature’s request comes at a time when COVID-19 numbers have plummeted in Greene County, as the department of health announced on Friday that there are 38 active positive cases in the county.
The agency identified four new positive cases in the prior 24 hours, bringing the total number of cases in the county to 9,791 cases since the pandemic began in March 2020.
As of Feb. 16, the percentage of tests in the county that returned positive results stood at 2.5%, with a seven-day rolling positive rate of 4.3%.
The county has recorded two new deaths tied to COVID-related illnesses since Wednesday, with an unidentified man in his 70s and a woman in her 80s who was unvaccinated against COVID the two latest victims.
While COVID cases have dropped precipitously in the county in recent weeks, Greene has recorded 21 COVID-related deaths since the start of 2022.
“We can’t explain why,” Groden said.
There are currently four county residents hospitalized with COVID-related illnesses, down from a winter high of 44 that was recorded on Jan. 6 during the height of the omicron surge.
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