Starting Monday, New Yorkers will no longer need to show proof of vaccination for indoor activities like dining and kids won’t have to wear face masks in school anymore, Mayor Adams announced as coronavirus infections continue to drop statewide.
The rollback of the pandemic precautions was expected, as Adams said earlier this week that the indoor Key2NYC vaccine mandate and school masking requirement would go away this Monday barring an “unforeseen spike” in COVID-19 cases.
Still, the mayor making it official at a Friday morning press conference in Times Square marked a major reversal in the city’s approach to fighting the virus, which continues to kill dozens of people in New York every day.
“This is truly an Arnold Schwarzenegger moment. We’ll be back,” Adams said, adding that he believes scrapping the restrictions is about getting “our economy back on track.”
“This is a celebratory moment. Why aren’t we celebrating this?” he added later on when asked if he’s concerned about the potential for future COVID-19 outbreaks. “We are winning, New York.”
Hizzoner’s upbeat tone was contrasted by a word of caution from Dr. David Chokshi, the city’s health commissioner.
“While this COVID-19 wave is ebbing, we can’t say that the pandemic is ending,” said Chokshi, who’s leaving his post on March 15 and handing over the reigns to incoming Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan.
Noting that nearly 40,000 city residents have been killed by COVID-19, Chokshi unveiled a new color-coded alert system that will recommend — but not require — the reintroduction of vaccine and masking mandates if case rates surge in the future.
“As we look ahead, ‘living with COVID’ cannot mean ignoring when too many continue to die of COVID,” he said.
Though the mandates are going away, Adams said private businesses can continue to require vaccinations for customers if they want. He also said students can keep their face masks on in school if they or their parents believe it’s necessary.
Students have since this past Monday been permitted to not wear masks outdoors while on school grounds. Adams’ move means they can drop the face coverings in all settings once they’re back for class Monday, and social distancing will no longer be required in schools, either.
“Our doctors agree with the city’s medical experts that this is the right time to safely move from a mask mandate to an optional mask system,” Michael Mulgrew, president of the city’s influential teachers union, said after Adams’ press conference.
While Adams received accolades for the school action, his decision to do away with the Key2NYC vaccine mandate for restaurants, bars, gyms and other indoor settings has rubbed some infectious disease experts and local lawmakers the wrong way.
In a Daily News op-ed published Thursday, Dr. Jay Varma, former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s top pandemic adviser, said it would be “wrong” for Adams to rescind the mandate, arguing it is a small burden that provides rigorous protection at a time when experts worry that future COVID-19 resurgences are still possible as vaccine immunity wanes in the population.
“We have no way to predict what the virus will do next. It may mutate into a strain that’s more infectious, more lethal, and/or more likely to cause ‘long COVID,’” Varma wrote.
Varma also said Adams hasn’t presented evidence that the mandate is actually a threat to business, especially considering more than 86% of the city’s adult population is now fully vaccinated.
“The mayor should provide survey and polling data to support the argument that Key to NYC is substantially harming economic activity,” he said.
Some proponents of Key2NYC have argued ending it could backfire on business activity, as vaccinated individuals avoid indoor settings out of concern that they will be around unvaccinated people.
Adams dismissed those concerns when asked about them in Times Square.
“There’s no decision you can make in New York that you’re going to get 100% of New Yorkers for — 8.8 million people, 30 million opinions,” he said. “We are going to open. People are going to get back in restaurants, they are going to go back to their normal lives.”
The city’s municipal workforce and private employer mandates remain in place despite Friday’s development, meaning that effectively anyone working in the Big Apple still needs to be vaccinated.
Adams’ rescission of the public health restrictions came as the city’s infection metrics continue to trend in the right direction.
According to the latest data from the State Health Department, the average COVID-19 test positivity rate in the five boroughs stands at 1.09%, the lowest in months.
Still, 26 New Yorkers died from COVID-19 Wednesday — including 11 in the city, the data shows.
Comptroller Brad Lander and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, the only citywide elected officials besides Adams, suggested Thursday that they share some concern about scrapping pandemic precautions too quickly and called on the mayor to proactively instate some new protections, including a full school vaccine mandate for the fall semester.
“We know future variants are likely, so we must be prepared for when they hit. We know vaccination saves lives, so let’s make clear now that it will be required for entry to school next fall,” Lander said in a statement.
Adams did not commit to enacting such a requirement Friday.
“That’s part of what’s on the discussion block,” he said. “We’ll discuss that with our medical professionals.”