As children remove masks, you can see how the COVID-19 rules change
As children remove masks, you can see how the COVID-19 rules change

As children remove masks, you can see how the COVID-19 rules change

Children and teens across the state was allowed to show their faces at school on Wednesday for the first time since 2020.

Governor Kathy Hochul and the state Department of Health announced that masks would become optional in K-12 schools last week, citing declining COVID-19 numbers and updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Despite concerns, there was no COVID-19 increase in schools after the February break, according to analysis from the Times Union.

The CDC now only recommends masking in indoor environments, including in schools, in areas with high community transfer rates.

Local educators and parents say some children so far choose to keep the face covering on when adapting to the new rules. Schools have advised parents and students that bullying over mask preferences will not be tolerated.

But even with relaxed masking requirements, state health officials say most other COVID-19 mitigation strategies remain in place, and in some cases, masking is still required.

There will also be some important changes in contact tracing and quarantine, according to March 1 guidance from State Department of Health. In particular, students and school staff exposed to someone with the virus will no longer need to be isolated, regardless of vaccination status.


However, teachers who are unvaccinated still need to be tested for COVID-19 weekly.

Here is the status of some other COVID-19 protocols, as masking is largely complete:

High risk areas

P-12 schools are required to offer COVID-19 testing to unvaccinated students on a weekly basis in geographic areas identified by the CDC as having moderate, significant, or high transmission rates. Parental consent is required to test a student at the school.

County health departments are advised by the CDC and “strongly encouraged” by the state to implement universal masking when the COVID-19 burden is high.

Currently, 10 New York counties have high COVID-19 rates, according to the CDC. It is up to the county health officials to make masking demands in the schools.

Most schools in areas with high COVID-19 levels appeared to have made masks optional on Wednesday, based on announcements posted on their websites.

In the Capital Region, Albany and Rensselaer have medium levels of infection according to the CDC calculations.

Positive or exposed to COVID-19

After contracting COVID-19, individuals can return to school after five days of isolation and must disguise themselves in school and in indoor public spaces on days 6-10, according to the new state guidelines.

People who are exposed to or potentially exposed to COVID-19 should wear a mask for 10 days in school and in indoor public spaces. They should not be quarantined, regardless of vaccination status.

Typically, anyone who was within 3 feet of a person for more than 15 minutes who later tests positive for COVID-19 is considered a close contact and must wear a mask for 10 days under the new rules.

As “individual” contact tracing is time consuming, the state now allows schools to implement “group” or “classroom” contact tracing,

Group contact tracking requires less information and less effort, but potentially identifies a large number of people as vulnerable or potentially vulnerable. This can be a problem in the middle and high school environment, where students change classrooms during the day.

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