Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino called for schools in New York to disobey the current indoor mask guidelines for kids and adults following conflicting messages from state officials.
"Show civil disobedience. Have common sense," Astorino told reporters on Wednesday morning. "We need school districts and superintendents to marry civil disobedience with common sense."
The at-times contentious politics over mask wearing are not new, and as fully vaccinated people are allowed to remove them in most indoor settings, in recent days the debate has shifted to schools. The fight over masks in schools comes as COVID-19 cases are declining and more people, including kids age 12 and older, are being vaccinated.
But the debate, as well as the mixed messaging from the Department of Health and the State Education Department, also underscores the stakes for schools as they move to fully reopen their doors to students and faculty in September.
"We're just at a point now where we've passed the crisis mode," Astorino said while speaking to reporters on the steps of the State Education Department building in Albany, across the street from the state Capitol.
A drum beat over shedding masks in schools began several weeks ago, as Republican state lawmakers and Astorino rival Rep. Lee Zeldin urged New York officials to ease guidelines as warm weather sets in.
Last Friday, Health Commissioner Howard Zucker signaled New York would ease its mask rules for unvaccinated and vaccinated people inside schools unless the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention presented data calling the safety of the move into question. On Sunday, the State Education Department told school district leaders no changes to mask policy would be put into effect.
And on Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced indoor mask rules would stay the same, but districts could have the option of allowing children to go maskless while outdoors.
"It's completely absurd," Astorino said. "As a parent, it's just obnoxious we have to deal with this kind of absurdity."
Children are considered less likely to spread coronavirus and have less serious cases. But they are also among the last to be vaccinated in New York.
Already, some school districts have indicated they will make masks optional, including the Mechanicville school district in Saratoga County.