New CDC data argues against masking in most New York schools

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The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a new way to tally coronavirus risk on Friday – and the new map shows much of eastern New York has returned to a “low” level of COVID-19.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a press conference Friday afternoon that researchers and clinicians “must focus our actions beyond just cases in the community and direct our efforts towards protecting people at high risk of serious illness and prevent COVID-19 from overwhelming our hospitals and healthcare systems.

Federal officials say the widespread use of vaccination among more than 200 million people and the reduction in transmission rates require that the risk of coronavirus be looked at differently.

Thus, the CDC revealed a map of risk levels which is based on the metrics it uses now — levels that “inform CDC recommendations on preventative measures such as masking and CDC recommendations for diaper preventative measures,” Walensky said.

The updated map takes into account new hospitalizations for COVID-19, hospital beds currently occupied by COVID-19 patients or hospital capacity, and new cases of COVID-19. Levels can be low, medium or high.

Only “high” coronavirus risk areas under the new guidelines call for the wearing of masks indoors – which includes schools.


The new risk assessment shows that the entire downstate, Hudson Valley and Mohawk Valley, as well as most of the Capital Region, are now considered low risk for coronavirus. The “low” risk calls for people to keep up to date with vaccines and get a COVID-19 test if they are sick.

Only Albany and Rensselaer counties in the southern North Country remain at “medium” risk for COVID-19 according to Friday’s map. At this level, the CDC says those who are immunocompromised or at high risk should consider wearing a mask.

High-risk areas currently in New York are in the Finger Lakes, Southern Tier and North Country.

Such a release of data likely puts more pressure on Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration to reconsider masking requirements at New York schools as students return from February vacation on Monday.

On Saturday, the Capital Region BOCES joined other school systems in calling on the state to lift school masking requirements by Monday.

“We are evaluating the new guidance from the CDC, and will update New Yorkers on potential changes as we work out the details and coordinate with all stakeholders in our school communities across our state,” Hochul’s office said Friday after the CDC’s revised guidelines were released.

The CDC noted that there are still times when people should wear a mask given the community’s risk status — including if you have symptoms, have tested positive for COVID-19, or are are in close contact with someone who has coronavirus.

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