Long Island school districts were thrown into chaos Tuesday, with some...

Long Island school districts were thrown into chaos Tuesday, with some administrators saying masks could come off.  Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

There is at least one part of Nassau State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Rademaker’s Monday mask decision that should be entirely uncontroversial.

"To be sure," the decision says, "every resident of New York wants to put this pandemic behind them and wishes to participate in ending the abnormality of the last couple of years."

Would that things were so simple, or that we were so simply united.

A legal challenge to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s attempt to mandate masks in schools has caused a few chaotic days for parents and school districts. Rademaker's decision that Hochul did not have the authority to issue the mandate was put on hold late Tuesday by a state appellate division judge until the appeals court can hear arguments on the constitutional issues involved. If there ever was a time when the appeals court should expedite a resolution of the legal fight, this is it. Long Island districts were thrown into chaos Tuesday, with some administrators saying masks could come off.

There is plenty of confusion and understandable anger, and it would be wise for administrators, parents, students, and New Yorkers in general to hold their fire while the legal proceedings continue to be sorted out.

The State Legislature, which could have avoided this confusion by authorizing a mask mandate, refused to do so. There is little expectation they have the gumption to lead us out of this mess.

This chaos teaches us that we need to start thinking about how to transition into a longed-for world in which universal masking is not necessary. That must be done carefully, patiently, with good-faith intentions and a compassionate understanding toward those who will need continued protection.

The Monday ruling, though celebrated by mask foes, did not "question or otherwise opine on the efficacy, need, or requirement of masks as a means or tool in dealing with the COVID-19 virus." Multiple studies have shown that mask use mitigates disease spread. New York is still experiencing significant COVID rates, thanks to the omicron variant that took over in December.

The numbers appear to be trending down. With more vaccination and treatment and barring the arrival of more dangerous variants, we may soon be able to start paring back some of the precautionary safety measures we’ve endured so long.

The wrong way to do this would be to rip off all masks too soon, or for school districts to send conflicting messages based on their reading of the legal status of the state mandate. No rush is necessary here, especially if we continue to benefit from falling case counts in the coming weeks. And we must provide protections for teachers and students who need to maintain higher COVID vigilance due to family or personal health situations. Distributing a sufficient supply of high-quality N95-style masks to those who need them would be just a start.

The end goal, of course, must be putting this pandemic behind us, not endangering our friends and neighbors or scoring political points.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.