NEW YORK - On her first day in office, Gov. Kathy Hochul said she is mandating universal mask-wearing in schools and requiring all teachers and school workers to either be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or get tested weekly.
"We need to require vaccinations for all school personnel with an option to test out weekly — at least for now," Hochul said. "New York is launching a back-to-school COVID-19 testing program to make testing for students and staff widely available and convenient."
The governor said that for months she has been consulting with parents, teachers, school boards, superintendents, and elected officials about the challenges that families and schools face amid the pandemic.
"I'm also newly directing the Department of Health to institute universal masking for anyone entering our schools," Hochul said. "Later this week, I'll announce a series of school-related policies that will be concise and consistent, giving the school districts what they have been asking for."
Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration, New York left it up to individual districts to set their own rules, which allowed many districts to opt-out of masking and other COVID-19 restrictions.
New York State United Teachers, or NYSUT, an umbrella group representing more than 900 local unions, applauded Hochul's COVID-19 mitigation strategies.
"We support universal mask wearing as part of a layered mitigation strategy that also includes robust COVID testing, contract tracing, proper ventilation and other strategies recommended by public health experts," NYSUT President Andy Pallotta wrote in a statement.
The back-to-school testing program is a partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Rite Aid, and BioReference Laboratories, the governor's office said. Students will be able to get tested for COVID by appointment at 115 Rite Aid drive-through locations.
"Digital results will be delivered to parents for students to bring to school," the governor's office said in a news release. "COVID-19 testing is voluntary and will be provided at no cost to the student's family nor to the school district."
With FOX 5 NY's Briella Tomassetti.