Adams to lift school mask mandate, vaccine requirement for indoor venues

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NEW YORK — Mayor Eric Adams announced a dramatic rollback of pandemic-era restrictions Friday designed to boost the city’s economy.

Beginning next week, restaurants and concert venues will no longer have to require proof of vaccination. And public school students will no longer need to wear masks.

Speaking in Times Square, Adams said the city is finally ready to move past Covid-19 restrictions that have hampered its economy over the last two years.

"This is clearly an Arnold Schwarzenegger moment,” Adams said. “We'll be back."

The mayor cited the city’s high vaccination rate and the low level of new Covid cases — the seven-day positivity average is now at 1.8 percent — as reasons to lift the strictures. Covid case levels are even lower in schools than among the general population.

"It’s time to open our city, and get the economy back operating," he said.

Individual businesses will still have the option of requiring proof of vaccination from customers. But companies will no longer be required to do so as of Monday.

“Folks can come in and enjoy the restaurants, the businesses and be a part of this great city without having to show proof of vaccination," Adams added about his decision to suspend the requirement known as Key to NYC that former Mayor Bill de Blasio implemented last year.

New York Hospitality Alliance Executive Director Andrew Rigie said the rollback will provide an economic lifeline to an industry that was devastated by the pandemic.

“As the situation evolves, we need to continue to adjust the different requirements. We need to be smart. We need to be safe. But we also need to stand together and support our restaurants, support our nightlife,” he said. “Without them, New York City never recovers.”

Public schools that serve kindergarten through 12th grade will no longer require students, teachers and staff to mask up indoors.

"We want to see the faces of our children," Adams said.

Other measures including social distancing and testing requirements will remain in effect. In addition, students under five will still be required to wear masks because they are not eligible for a vaccine and are predisposed to severe illness if they contract Covid, Adams said.

The news was received warmly by the teacher’s union.

“This is the responsible, thoughtful way to make our next transition,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. “We will, however, keep our testing program in place — both in-school and the take-home tests — to make sure we remain on the right path."

Speaking ahead of the mayor, outgoing city Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi announced a new color-coded Covid alert system that will keep residents up to date on risk levels.

The city is currently in the green or “low” risk level, and back in the spring of 2020 was in the red or “very high” category. While the four levels will keep New Yorkers informed of the potential risk, they will not trigger requirements like indoor vaccine or mask mandates.

“That’s not something that will be automatically done because it depends on the nature of a new variant, exactly what the velocity of the increase is [and] what’s happening in our hospitals,” Chokshi said.

Friday’s announcement does not affect a private sector vaccine mandate, nor does it affect any of the city workers who were fired for refusing to get the vaccine. Masks are also still required at health care facilities, correction centers and public transit.

“We are far from out of the woods,” Adams said. “Covid is still here, but we are beating it back."