As of Wednesday, indoor masking will no longer be mandated...

As of Wednesday, indoor masking will no longer be mandated at Farmingdale State College, school officials said. Credit: Howard Schnapp

SUNY schools and other Long Island colleges and universities are ending mask mandates and relaxing other protocols amid an ongoing drop in COVID-19 positivity rates and loosening federal guidelines.

The SUNY system has revised its policy to allow local campuses flexibility in line with local conditions. As of Wednesday, indoor masking will no longer be mandated at Stony Brook University’s West Campus and at Farmingdale State College. However, SUNY Old Westbury’s COVID-19 and Environmental Safety Committee will recommend that its indoor mandate remain in place, spokesperson Michael Kinane said. Nassau and Suffolk community colleges, part of the SUNY system, are reviewing their policies, spokespeople for both schools said Monday.

The changes come as the state continues monitoring COVID-19 data for people in other congregate settings such as senior housing, nursing homes and prisons.

"I want the data to see whether or not we’re keeping, maintaining a lower level, or whether or not that it’s sliding back and forth," Hochul said Monday, during an interview with PIX 11. "So once I have the data and analyze it, we’ll be able to make a decision on that."

Meanwhile, other Long Island schools with revised mask policies include Molloy College in Rockville Centre and Adelphi University in Garden City. Molloy College announced Monday that it is "immediately removing all masking requirements except for those with approved vaccine exemptions, and for those riding shuttles from train stations," according to spokesperson Ken Young. The college’s COVID-19 positivity rate, with only one case, "is currently almost at zero," Young said.

Adelphi will maintain the indoor mask mandate for now, but has lifted the outdoor mask requirement and relaxed other protocols, said spokesperson Todd Wilson.

"With traditional Spring Break approaching, March 14-20, the re-evaluation of precautions by April 1 provides us with a 10-day window following the return of our community members from travel to regions with various risk levels during the break," Wilson said in an emailed statement.

As of Tuesday, limits end for indoor room capacity, events and meetings can serve food and drinks, and "self-serve dining options, including salad bars, will return to the UC Dining Hall and The Eatery at Post Hall," a message of the university's website stated. Visitors will no longer have to submit to daily screening, although they are asked to self-screen.

In a statement announcing Stony Brook’s revised policy, university officials said that masks would still be required of Stony Brook Medicine employees and others in the hospital and/or any other patient care setting. And mask mandates continue in effect at the Student Health & Counseling Center, at on-campus COVID-19 surveillance testing sites, and aboard university shuttles, Stony Brook officials said.

At New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, policies were revised Feb. 15 to make mask wearing discretionary in common indoor spaces, although school officials asked that everyone continue wearing face coverings in the classroom. Outdoor masking is not required.

St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue is also reviewing its policies and will announce its decisions in the "near future," said spokesperson Jessica McAleer Decatur.

As for hospitals and nursing homes, Hochul said of mask mandates in the PIX 11 interview: "I believe people understand why we would keep them in place … two huge points of vulnerability."

Northwell Health, which has 11 hospitals on Long Island, will work with the state Health Department and examine local as well as regional COVID-19 data if the mask mandate is eased for medical facilities, said Dr. Peter Silver, its chief quality officer and associate chief medical officer.

"As of now, we continue to have all employees and visitors wear masks when they are in the hospitals," Silver said. "And we are continuing to require visitors to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 … we will look at all of the information in concert and make a decision when the time comes."

Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital officials said they are following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Masks are required for all staff and visitors when inside the Oceanside hospital’s facilities, officials said.

For the Gurwin Healthcare System, which includes, Gurwin Jewish Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Commack, masks have proved to be effective in keeping residents and staff safe from COVID-19 as well as other respiratory illnesses such as the flu, said Stuart Almer, president and chief executive.

"I would not anticipate the state lifting the mandate after all we have experienced," said Almer. "I believe we should proceed cautiously."

Hochul’s ruling, and the new CDC guidelines, have no bearing on public transportation facilities, which are under a Transportation Security Administration mask requirement that will remain in place until March 18, at the earliest. That means masks must continue to be worn on Long Island Rail Road trains and enclosed stations, airports, planes, buses, ferries, and New York City subway trains.

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which includes the LIRR, said that if, in the future, the TSA declares masks as optional, the MTA would then look for guidance from the CDC and the state Health Department.

TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein confirmed the agency’s mask requirement remains in place, and said it will "continue to assess the duration of the requirement in consultation with CDC."

With Alfonso Castillo

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