TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Thanks to increasingly relaxed New York State regulations, some local school districts have begun to tweak their mask mandate policies and allow for staff and students to remove their masks while outside.

The New York State Department of Health had previously published a letter on June 4 that stated masks would be totally optional in schools starting June 7, but it appears the Centers for Disease Control wouldn’t support those plans so the state pivoted. Students and teachers will have to keep masks on while indoors going forward in New York schools, but masks are no longer required for outdoor activities.

Ithaca City School District, Groton Central School District and Trumansburg Central School District all had addressed the changes on their website by late Monday afternoon, with more sure to follow.

Citing the fact that Trumansburg has had several cases pop up among students recently, TCSD Superintendent Kimberly Bell decided that the district would be keeping its existing mask mandates, which do allow for mask breaks, until June 25 at least.

In a letter to the community, ICSD Superintendent Dr. Luvelle Brown clarified that ICSD would keep an indoor mask mandate but remove it for outdoor time (even before the CDC’s recommendation that masks still be worn indoors), though he signaled that he was happy with the relatively low prevalence of COVID-19 in schools thus far.

“In the Ithaca City School District, we will continue to require mask-wearing indoors, with continued exceptions for eating, drinking, and mask breaks,” Brown wrote. “When outdoors, individuals no longer need to be masked. Our community has done an exceptional job of containing the spread of COVID-19. Although our transmission rates are low, we still have many unvaccinated community members. The continuation of mask-wearing in schools allows for our continued support of students and adults in our school buildings.”

Groton’s Margo Martin, the district superintendent, said that Groton schools would now adhere allow students and staff to unmask outdoors.

The health department published its reaction to the mask guidance, updating the community.

“This change aligns youth camp and school guidance,” read an announcement from the Tompkins County Health Department. “CDC has no objection to this change in the mask mandate. School districts will be required to uphold consistent mask use indoors based on recommendations from the CDC.”

“The mask guidance changed very quickly for adults who are fully vaccinated, however, most children are still unvaccinated,” said Frank Kruppa, the county’s public health director. “Evidence continues to show that consistent mask use indoors for those two years and up who are not fully vaccinated, along with other prevention strategies, is key to reducing the spread of COVID.”

Kruppa continued that vaccination rates are improving for local 12-17 year olds, i part with the help of local school districts assisting to run vaccination clinics.

“However, we still have regular cases among children in many of our local districts,” Kruppa continued. “As we have seen all year, masks and other strategies clearly prevent the spread of germs and curb the spread of COVID as well as other viruses.”  

Information about local vaccination clinics can be found on the TCHD website. TCHD and Cayuga Health System will continue to schedule smaller, site-specific vaccination clinics in rural locations and through the Request a Clinic form over the next few weeks. Local pharmacies and medical offices may have vaccine available, details available online

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com