Amid concerns that a new COVID variant will cause cases to rise, Mayor Adams announced on Tuesday that as long as New York’s coronavirus infection risk remains low, toddlers won’t have to wear face masks in school starting next month, April 4.
Adams, who dropped the mask requirement for K-12 students on March 7, said that, come April 4, kids younger than 5 won’t need to wear face coverings in school or at day care settings, either. But with that, he included the caveat that he may reconsider the move if COVID cases surge.
“If the numbers continue to show a low level of risk, masks will be optional for 2-to-4-year-old students in schools and in daycares,” Adams said in the City Hall rotunda.
“We want to see our babies’ faces again.”
However, Adams would not commit to lifting another contentious COVID rule on Tuesday — the vaccination mandate for private-sector employers.
That mandate has made considerable waves because it has prevented athletes who’ve refused to get vaccinated, like the Brooklyn Nets’ Kyrie Irving, from playing at-home games.
“I do not feel any pressure doing this job because I’m going to do what’s right. That is what I’m going to do. Let me tell you what pressure is: pressure is being a transit cop in 1984, riding the trains by yourself with a radio that didn’t work,” Adams, a former NYPD captain, said.
“We’re going to do it in the right way. We’re going to follow the science.”
Adams suggested that any future lifting of additional mandates would depend, in part, on how mandates that have already been rolled back impact the city.
“Each layer we peel back, we’re going to do an analysis: are we OK?” said Adams, who also scrapped the city’s coronavirus vaccine mandate for indoor activities like dining earlier this month.
“And if we have to pivot and shift and come back here in a week and say we’re going to do something different, we’re going to do that.”
The lifting of the pre-K mandate means there would be no educational settings in the city where masks are still required.
It would also mark a win for a group of young parents who’ve called on Adams to allow the unmasking of toddlers in school, pointing to studies showing youngsters suffer mentally and socially from the face-covering mandate.
On the flip side, some public health experts have pleaded to keep pandemic precautions in place until a more precise picture emerges of how COVID’s BA.2 strain, the highly contagious subvariant of the omicron mutation, will impact the city.
Even Adams’ health commissioner, Dr. Ashwin Vasan, made a case last week for keeping the toddler rule in place because federal regulators still haven’t authorized COVID-19 vaccines for kids under 5.
“I would love nothing more than to send my son to daycare without a mask,” Vasan, whose kid is 4, said during a COVID-19 briefing last week.
“But as a scientist … I want to keep him safe because he’s not eligible for a vaccine.”
Speaking at Tuesday’s City Hall press conference alongside Adams, Vasan stressed that the city will reevaluate the mask mandate rollback for younger kids if BA.2 triggers a sharp surge in cases.