Mayor Eric Adams said Sunday that New York City is preparing to eliminate school mask mandates and vaccine requirements for restaurants, gyms and movie theaters by March 7 if reports of new cases of coronavirus in the city remain low.
Many city residents hope the setback will help restore a sense of normalcy to the city and spur its economic recovery. Mr. Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul of New York have focused on reviving the city, where the unemployment rate has remained stubbornly high.
Mr Adams, who has said for weeks that he is eager to remove virus restrictions, has promised to make a final decision by Friday. He said he wanted to give business owners time to adjust – a nod to the toll the virus and related restrictions have taken on small businesses.
Ms. Hochul announced on Sunday that a statewide mask mandate for schools would be lifted on Wednesday, leaving mask policy to local school officials afterwards.
The governor said the mandate had been vital in combating Omicron’s push, which has now largely receded. “When I think back to what was happening a short time ago, I’m so happy that we put in place a mask requirement for schools back then,” she said. “That’s how we kept those numbers from getting worse.”
On Saturday, New York state reported a seven-day average test positivity rate of less than 2% and less than 2,000 hospitalizations, for the first time since last fall. The state is now reporting an average of about 2,400 new coronavirus cases per day, about the same as in early August and well below the peak of more than 74,000 per day in mid-January.
New York City’s vaccination mandate for indoor restaurants, movie theaters and gymnasiums, known as the Key to NYC program, was imposed by Mr. Adams’ predecessor, Bill de Blasio. The city’s vaccination requirement for most city employees remains in effect.
About 59% of students in city schools have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, the city reported last week, compared to about 96% of adults.
Dr. Uché Blackstock, a doctor who focuses on health equity, said student vaccination rates vary widely across New York City neighborhoods and that her children, who attend schools public in the city, would continue to wear masks.
“Removing mask policies from these schools is dangerous,” she wrote on Twitter.
Sunday’s announcements were celebrated by many across the state. “The business community is eager to move beyond pandemic conditions and restrictions,” said Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City. And Republican lawmakers like Rob Ortt, the state Senate Minority Leader, have called the measures long overdue.
However, in a recent Siena College Research Institute poll, 58% of registered voters in New York City said the state should wait to drop the mask mandate in schools after reviewing data from early March. . And 45% of those polled disapproved of the state’s abandonment of mask mandates in private businesses.
Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, which represents teachers in New York, said the union would “speak with our own independent doctors, review data from take-home test kits and random testing at the school this week, and make sure all of this is considered as New York City reviews its own school masking policy.