Governor Kathy Hochul will relieve school children, teachers and staff from a statewide mask mandate this week.

Starting Wednesday, masks are no longer required in schools, bringing many smiles to the faces of students and teachers alike. And with masks gone, you'll actually be able to see those smiling faces again.

Hochul's decision, announced Monday, comes more than two weeks after the state relaxed rules that required businesses to enforce mask and distancing mandates. Many, including parents questioned why the state was still forcing children to mask-up, despite being the least likely to suffer COVID-19 most serious consequences.

"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", according to the Governor's website.

Local county officials reacted positively to the news, with Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente calling it a 'long awaited next step in our return to normalcy,":

“The long awaited next step in our return to normalcy was announced today with the lifting of mask mandates in our schools. Once this state action goes into effect on Wednesday, Oneida County will not have a mask mandate requirement for schools going forward. The data fully supports this decision and it’s time for students and teachers to have the ability to focus on learning first. I support giving parents the choice on whether their children will continue to wear masks and in no way should any student or teacher who chooses to wear a mask be ostracized or bullied in classrooms or on social media.

Meanwhile, the Madison County Department of Health released a statement in 'full support' of ending the requirement, adding the decision should be left up to schools, students and their parents:

Madison County would like to announce its full support of Governor Hochul’s decision to end the statewide school mask mandate on March 2. The decision to wear masks is the choice of our schools, students and their parents. Everyone should respect the individual’s right to wear a mask or not going forward.

While cases are down 98% statewide since Omicron's peak, as noted above by Hochul's office, there are still 11 counties in New York where COVID-19 spread is prevalent and while not required, masks are still recommended.

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