Hochul issues new emergency

Gov. Kathy Hochul answers a reporter’s question during a COVID-19 briefing in the state Capitol on Oct. 5. Courtesy of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office

The state’s school mask mandate will end after the majority of New York children get vaccinated against COVID-19, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Thursday.

Children ages 5 to 11 started receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech’s pediatric COVID-19 vaccine this week after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the shots Monday.

The vaccine was previously available to Americans ages 12 and older.

“I want to give parents and kids that sense of hope: This is not a permanent situation, the mask will come off,” Hochul said, urging people to vaccinate their child as soon as possible.

Hochul answered questions for nearly an hour Thursday on a webinar hosted by City & State and sponsored by AARP.

“If 100% of every child is vaccinated in the state of New York, it would be illogical to require them to wear masks,” she said.

The state will eliminate the COVID-19 safety regulation requiring every person over age 2 wear a mask or facial covering in school buildings after a majority of children are protected against the fatal upper respiratory disease.

“I don’t have a magic number,” said Hochul, adding she will wait for U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue guidance about the safe vaccination threshold to remove the mask mandate and declare the pandemic’s end.

“Hopefully sooner than later, the masks will not be necessary — we’re just not there yet,” the governor said.

The statewide mask mandate, first imposed in April 2020, ended in June after nearly 70% of New York adults were vaccinated against COVID-19.

It’s too early to know the appropriate number, or vaccine percentage, for children to safely remove their facial coverings while in public.

“I know a lot of parents in the state appreciate the fact their little kids are safer because they’re wearing masks,” the governor said. “I encourage parents, if you want your kids to see grandma and grandpa or older aunts and uncles over the Thanksgiving and upcoming holidays, get them vaccinated now so your child does not become the reason that the parent you fought so hard to protect all these months actually gets sick.”

State officials worked with school districts across New York to schedule pop-up vaccine sites for children during school hours. Pediatricians statewide also made preparations to ensure a smooth vaccine rollout.

At least 87.8% of New Yorkers ages 18 and older have received at least one COVID vaccine dose as of Thursday.

“I really hope that parents who know that their kids do not show up to Kindergarten until they’ve been vaccinated for a whole host of diseases will do the same,” Hochul said of fighting the coronavirus. “And then we can finally declare the era of masks is over, the pandemic is behind us and power into the future.”

Hochul teased state officials are brainstorming to come up with creative incentives to encourage children about getting the life-saving shot.

Children between the ages of 5 and 11 are eligible to receive $100 to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday.

The state’s average COVID positivity rate has declined to 2.3% as of Thursday with the increasing vaccination rates.

At least 58,164 New Yorkers died from coronavirus complications since March 2020, according to the CDC.

Tribune News Service contributed to this report.

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