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Appeals Judge Leaves N.Y. Mask Mandate In Place, For Now

MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The battle over New York's mask mandate has taken several turns over the last several hours.

The state initially filed an appeal after a New York State Supreme Court judge overturned the mandate on Monday night, saying it couldn't be enforced. However, state Appeals Judge Robert Miller left the mandate in place Tuesday while Gov. Kathy Hochul's administration appeals the lower court's decision to overturn it.

The governor said she's confident the court will keep it in place.

"I don't wanna keep any requirements of safety in place a day longer than necessary, but I will not do it a day before we can do it safely," Hochul said.

"Nearly three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, we know that wearing a mask saves lives. This mandate and today's decision are critical in helping to stop the spread of this virus and protect individuals young and old. We will continue to do everything in our power to prioritize the health and wellbeing of all New Yorkers," state Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement.

The rule requires masks or proof of vaccination at all indoor public places.

COVID VACCINE

Arguing before Miller on Tuesday, Judith Vale, an attorney for the state, said Long Island Judge Thomas Rademaker's ruling would "radically disrupt the status quo" and endanger the health of students and staff at schools.

"The order, if not stayed, will allow individuals to refuse to wear face coverings in indoor public settings where the risk of COVID-19 spread is high, including in schools where many children remain unvaccinated against COVID-19," the state's court filing said.

The plaintiffs' attorney, Chad Laveglia, vowed to take the challenge "as far as it needs to go."

"The judge got it wrong entirely. It's so blatantly unconstitutional to grant a stay whatsoever," he said.

After nearly two years of wearing masks, they can wear on you. Some are over the face coverings, but others don't mind.

"I think that we have to do what we have to do, and I think that it's a small price to pay," White Plains resident Richard Lippin told CBS2's Nick Caloway.

Needless to say, there was a lot of confusion earlier Tuesday across the state, especially on Long Island, where new Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman has led the charge to end the mask mandate. Upon taking office, he signed an order making mask mandates optional.

"We'd like her to stand down. Let parents make choices about their children, not have Albany do it and paint everybody in the state with the same broad brush," he said.

Blakeman issued the following statement on Tuesday evening:

"It is time for the governor to stand down and stop disrespecting the rights of students and parents. Mask decisions should be made by families and school boards who have their finger on the pulse of their communities. Not Albany politicians. Nassau is normal again, and our county will continue to lead the way as an example for the rest of the state to follow."

State Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt said the governor should not be ruling by mandates.

"If she really wants to pursue, send this to the legislature," he said.

More than 120 public schools and dozens of private districts on Long Island were in tumult and chaos on Tuesday morning, responding to the lower court judge's ruling that the statewide mandate requiring face coverings inside schools in unconstitutional.

Some school districts kept the mandate while the state filed appeals. Others told parents masks were optional.

"I went in today, I walked into the building, showed my cleared for class, which is something that they have to show that we are COVID-free," one student told CBS2's Jennifer McLogan. "And so they told me, either put the mask on or get out of the building."

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

Jovanni Ortiz, a Nassau County resident and longtime political observer, said whichever way the courts rule, clarity will be key.

"And at the end of the day, we all have to try to really be on the same page to make sure that we're abiding by those guidelines," Ortiz said.

There will be another hearing on this in front of the state appeals court on Friday.

The lower court judge's ruling on Monday followed a lawsuit brought by a group of parents.

"Thank you to everybody who stood up with us. This was definitely not one person who took this torch and ran with it," plaintiff and parent Michael Demetriou of the Bellmore-Merrick School District said prior to the mandate being left in place.

The decision had no immediate impact on New York City schools because the district had its own masking policies in place.

CBS2's Nick Caloway contributed to this report, which first appeared on Jan. 25.

(© Copyright 2022 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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