New York Governor Kathy Hochul, seen here during a press conference on February 9, 2022, stressed that individual discretion on masks will be respected.
CNN  — 

New York will no longer require students to wear masks in schools beginning on Wednesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Sunday, citing steep declines in Covid-19 hospitalizations statewide.

Individual counties and cities with higher transmission rates may still require masks in schools, and parents and guardians may also still choose to send children to schools in masks, said Hochul.

“My friends, the day has come,” Hochul said, while emphasizing that the decision was made in consultation with the city’s department of health and education officials.

According to statewide data released on Saturday, New York recorded a statewide seven-day positivity rate of under 2% with hospitalizations below 2,000 for the first time since Nov. 14. The state also recorded its lowest seven-day average of pediatric cases since July and an 80% decline in pediatric hospitalizations, the governor said.

The governor also referenced new guidance issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday that influenced the state’s new rules, which will go into effect on March 2.

According to the new CDC guidance, more than 70% of the population is in a location with low or medium Covid-19 levels. In those areas, masking is not necessary unless an individual is at “increased risk” for Covid-19 and if so, the CDC recommends talking to your health care provider about wearing a mask.

“We will not stand for any bullying or ostracization or harassment for an individual or business who chooses to wear a mask as we’re still going through this,” Hochul said in a statement. “And we are going to remain vigilant. We are going to continue to distribute masks, distribute test kits and continue our vaccination strategy to make sure there’s plenty of opportunities to get vaccinated and boosted.”

The new directive includes children who are ages two and older in childcare facilities. Counties and cities that have a higher rate of Covid-19 transmission have the “flexibility” to keep the mask requirement in schools, Hochul said, and parents and guardians may still send their children to school in masks.

Mayor Eric Adams announced on Sunday that as long as Covid-19 numbers continue to decline, he intends to remove the indoor mask mandate for public school children on March 7.

Adams said he will make final determination on school masks on Friday.

“If we see no unforeseen spikes and our numbers continue to show a low level of risk, New York City will remove the indoor mask mandate for public school children, effective next Monday, March 7,” Adams’ statement read.

“Our schools have been among the safest places for our children since the beginning of the pandemic, and we will continue to make the proper public health decisions to keep our kids safe, including making masks available for any child or school staff member who wishes to continue wearing them,” the mayor said.

Adams said that he also plans to lift the city’s requirement to show proof of vaccination for indoor activities such as dining, visiting gyms and attending entertainment programs for individuals ages 5 and older starting March 7, albeit with a similar caveat that this week’s Covid-19 data will ultimately determine his decision.

The mask requirement remains in effect at state-regulated healthcare settings, adult care facilities and nursing homes, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, and public transportation, Hochul said.

Before mid-winter break, 4.8 million tests were sent to schools for children to take home, according to a state news release. An additional 4.8 million tests will be distributed this week for students to take home upon their return to school. In total, 20.8 million tests have been distributed to schools, the release says.

“Among large states, New York has the highest rate of adults fully vaccinated for COVID-19, the highest rate of teenagers fully vaccinated for COVID-19, and the second-highest rate of children ages 5-11 fully vaccinated,” according to the state’s press release. “New York State has experienced a 98 percent decline in COVID-19 cases since the Omicron peak, and a continuous downward trend in cases for 51 consecutive days.”

New York removed its statewide mask-or-vaccine requirement for indoor businesses – but not for schools – earlier this month amid declining cases and hospitalizations.

But individual discretion will be respected, Gov. Hochul said.

“Individual parents have their own knowledge of their children, they know their own children’s health, they know their tolerance for the mask,” the governor said.

A growing number of states – the majority with Democratic governors – have announced in recent weeks that they would lift their indoor or school mask mandates, including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Rhode Island.