Come Monday, hundreds of thousands of public school students in the nation’s largest district and their educators can ditch face masks indoors, Mayor Eric Adams said Friday as he announced the looming end of one of the most profoundly impactive and longstanding mandates of the COVID pandemic.
Businesses throughout the five boroughs won’t have to check vaccine cards at the door either starting next week, though they can continue to do so if they choose.
Face masks will still be required for students younger than the vaccine-eligible age of 5, though, the Democrat announced, which affects some pre-K classes, all 3-K classes and many daycare and kids’ programs overseen by the health department.
Parents of kids affected by the mandate’s lifting can still send them to school with masks if they prefer, and schools will have face coverings handy for anyone in need. Adams acknowledged it may take time for some to feel comfortable without masks in certain settings and he says the city fully supports their right to discretion.
“We are not going to get in the way of your discretion and we want New Yorkers to be smart, flexibility and be able to feel comfortable without any bullying, without any teasing. If you feel comfortable wearing your mask feel free to do so,” he said.
But it’s time to lose the rule, the mayor said, citing an in-school positivity rate of just 0.18% — on top of a lower-than-neighborhood average rate throughout the entire pandemic — and drastically receding viral metrics across the board.
“We want to see the faces of our children, we want to see their smiles, we want to see how happy they are, we want to see when they’re feeling sad so we can be there to comfort them. The masks prevented us from doing so for almost two years,” Adams said.
Kids of kindergarten age or higher or staff who return to school after testing positive for COVID or experiencing symptoms also have to wear masks until 10 days have passed since the diagnosis or symptoms.
Public schools will continue core COVID precautions like case surveillance and deep cleaning efforts, along with weekly testing. Almost 90,000 students and staff are being randomly tested each week under the city’s COVID safety plan — and more than 20 million rapid tests have been distributed to kids to take home.
“We will make proper public health decisions to keep our city safe. We will pivot if we see a reason to change any policies. We’re going to be unafraid to make those adjustments and changes. COVID changes. It shifts, it modifies. We must be open to do the same,” Adams said. “And if we see a rise in cases or hospitalizations, we’re going to come back. It’s imperative we know this battle is still on.”
Adams delivered his announcement in Times Square Friday by no coincidence. The lifting of the mandate in the once jarringly empty Crossroads of the World, now again a bastion for tourism, entertainment and nightlife industries, serves as a powerful symbol for the city’s ongoing recovery and revitalization.
The mayor also will suspend the city’s “Key2NYC” policy, which currently requires anyone 5 and older to show proof of vaccination in order to enter most public spaces, such as restaurants, bars, gyms and grocery stores, effective on Monday.
Adams, who has been vocal about the city needing to return more fully to pre-pandemic habits, had indicated his plans earlier this week after the CDC changed its mask recommendations. The situation has further improved since, with the CDC now saying that 90% of the U.S. population now needn’t wear them indoors, up from more than 70% when the agency made its announcement last week.
Unchanged, though, is the city’s vaccine requirement to work. All of the private-sector workers in New York City are still required to be fully vaccinated pursuant to the order put in place by former Mayor Bill de Blasio at the end of last year.
Also unchanged: Mask rules for public transit. Asked Friday whether he would drop mask rules for subways if the CDC shifts its guidance on transit when it revisits the issue next week, Adams says he’s not at that point just yet.
“New York is unique and we need to always modify our responses based on intensity. I think we should continue to wear a mask in the subway system,” the mayor said. “The CDC will hand down their recommendations, but I’m not at the place where I think we need to spot wearing masks on the subways.”
Watch Mayor Eric Adams’ announcement here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhdgYsoY_QQ