Gov. Kathy Hochul lifted a statewide mask mandate for indoor places, including restaurants, gyms and stores, on Wednesday.

The mandate will expire on Thursday after being in place since Dec. 13 as a result of a “winter surge” of coronavirus cases, Hochul said. It had been set to expire on Feb. 21.

Hochul’s lifting of the mandate does not include indoor settings for school districts. On Tuesday, she said the mask mandate for schools will remain in effect until at least Feb. 28. In the interim, she said, students will be sent home with COVID-19 test kits.

“Keeping schools open has always been my top priority, and I want to thank the teachers, administrators, and parents who joined me today to hear directly from them,” Hochul said. “I want to also remind parents and guardians to please get their children vaccinated, and boosted if eligible.”

Hochul said she has been in constant contact with education officials throughout the state on when the mandate should be lifted.

“The governor, like school board members, must balance many different concerns and ultimately decide based on what’s best for our students,” New York School Boards Association Executive Director Robert S. Schneider said. “The governor’s receptivity to the viewpoints of the education community will undoubtedly result in an informed position and hopefully place us all in a better position to move forward.”

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, prior to Hochul’s lifting of the indoor mandate, called for the governor to end the school mask mandate.

“Let children be children again,” Blakeman said in a statement. “That’s my message to Gov. Hochul. She must lift student mask mandates this week, return personal decision-making  and restore childhoods.”

Blakeman, a Republican, received backlash from Democratic officials throughout the state for an executive order he signed in mid-January aimed at providing school districts with a choice to enforce mask mandates or not.

Officials said the mandate for masks in schools can stay in effect until at least March 2, the deadline for the state to file documents for an appeal of a lawsuit filed by a group of 14 parents. The lawsuit  claimed Hochul’s mask mandate was unconstitutional.

On Jan. 24, Justice Thomas Rademaker of State Supreme Court in Nassau County ruled that the mandates violated the state Constitution, resulting in a handful of school districts on Long Island making masks optional on Tuesday, Jan. 25. The next day, Appellate Judge Robert J. Miller’s forced the school districts that chose to make mask-wearing optional to go back to following Hochul’s guidelines.

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