Judge Grants Stay In NY Mask Mandate Case, Keeping It In Effect Pending Appeal

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After a New York judge ruled Monday that the state’s mask mandate can’t be enforced, it was put back into effect on Tuesday with a stay granted in the case as the state appeals.

The mask mandate was reinstituted by Gov. Kathy Hochul over concerns about a winter surge of coronavirus cases.

The attorney general’s office immediately filed an intent to appeal, but acknowledged Tuesday morning that the mandate was, for now, not in place. An appellate judge heard arguments at an afternoon hearing and is expected to rule later in the day.

School districts are taking different approaches to the news, with some on Long Island continuing mask orders and others making them immediately optional. In New York City, the Department of Education said its mask mandate pre-dates the state order and isn’t affected by the judge’s ruling.

State Supreme Court Judge Thomas Rademaker said in his decision that the state Department of Health didn’t have the legal authority to implement the mandate and that it was up to the state Legislature to do so if needed.

The mandate “is a law that was promulgated and enacted unlawfully by an executive branch state agency, and therefore void and unenforceable,” the judge said.

The state had initially instituted a mask mandate in April 2020 that ended in June 2021 for vaccinated individuals; Hochul announced in mid-December that it would go back into effect for at least a month. Earlier this month, the state health department said the mandate would be in place until Feb 1.

In a statement, Hochul said, “My responsibility as Governor is to protect New Yorkers throughout this public health crisis, and these measures help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. We strongly disagree with this ruling, and we are pursuing every option to reverse this immediately.”

The ruling comes as the omicron wave that gripped New York state appears to be fading. The state averaged around 23,400 new cases of the virus per day in the 7 day period that ended Sunday, down from 74,600 per day during the wave’s peak in early January. Hospitalizations are dropping, too, declining 17% statewide in the past 7 days.

After news of the ruling, there has been mixed messages from different school districts across the state in terms of if children will still be required to wear masks in school on Tuesday and beyond.

In an email to parents late Monday, the Massapequa School District said that masks would be optional for students.

Not far away, in Jericho, the superintendent acknowledged the confusion the ruling causes, but said that because the state is planning on appealing the decision — which would create a stay for the order to be maintained — it would still be required that “schools must continue to follow the mask rule.”

In Roslyn and Glen Cove, district officials acknowledged that the ruling meant masks would be optional, but said the situation could change again at any time.

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