With the last remaining schoolmask mandate for New York City children likely to be lifted by Mayor Eric Adams in early April, both supporters and opponents of the mandate said the end of the policy seems inevitable.
At a town hall press conference on Tuesday, Adams said that if COVID-19 rates remain low over the next two weeks, the mesh mandate for 2- to 4-year-olds in 3K and pre-K classrooms and day care centers will be removed April 4.
The mayor ended the school mask mandate for older children in kindergarten through March 7, but kept the mandate for the youngest students in place because they were too young to be vaccinated. Children under the age of two were never required to wear a mask.
The political pressure from parents who were against the mask mandate put Adams in a difficult position, according to a pediatrician who supported the mandate for unvaccinated school children.
“I think reopening – and unmasking and everything – is an unstoppable tidal wave. No one will be able to get ahead of it and make this stop, because I think there are too many people demanding it, ”said Dr. Jesse Hackell, head of Chapter 3 of the state-run American Academy of Pediatrics, which covers Manhattan, the Bronx and Westchester.
The AAP still recommends unvaccinated children – which includes the entire population under the age of 5 who cannot be vaccinated – wear masks inside schools.
Since the older students’ mask mandates were lifted, Adams has faced increasing calls from some parents and child care administrators seeking to drop all mandates.
“I’m celebrating the victory because I think parents really needed to know this was going to end, but to be honest, this should never have happened in the first place,” said Natalya Murakhver of Manhattan, who has two children. Murakhver is also the organizer of a group that hired a truck to follow Adams with a mobile billboard around New York City this week and demanded that the children’s mask mandate be dropped.
The mayor’s updated policy has been approved by the United Federation of Teachers union, which issued a brief statement.
“Our doctors agree that the time has come to make masks optional for the youngest children, as long as we continue to closely monitor the rate of infection,” UFT spokeswoman Alison Gendar said Tuesday.
The mayor said the easing of the mask mandate for young children came after monitoring COVID rates among older students after their mask mandates were lifted.
“Since we removed the mask mandate for K-12 students, our percentage of positivity has remained low, which is a good sign that we are moving at the right pace and doing the right thing. And so now it’s time to move on. a layer left in this whole initiative, ”Adams said.
Hackell from the AAP said the timing of the abolition of the mandate is strategic. With the target date of April 4, the city can monitor the omicron sub-variant called BA.2, which has been rising across the country. On Monday, the BA.2 sub-variant accounted for about 40% of the sequenced COVID-19 cases compared to three weeks ago, when it accounted for only 13% of cases, state health officials said.
If COVID rates remain low enough to allow 2-4-year-olds to drop the mask mandate on April 4, the city has a chance to observe any increases in pediatric cases before the school system goes on spring break in mid-April, which could offer a potential reset, Hackell said.
“He can always put the brake on if the numbers have kept rising in two weeks. And if they have not, and he goes on to reveal, then it’s only two weeks before the spring break, ”Hackell said. “Then we have that spring break as a kind of buffer to say, ‘Oops, it was too early, we’re seeing an increase.’
“I think he did a reasonably good job, in terms of the time frame and what the calendar looks like, by being careful – and yet appeasing the people who demand that everything be opened up and return to normal,” Hackell added.
For Murakhver, even a two-week waiting period seems to lift the mandate unnecessarily.
“It’s a suspension with a lot of different conditions that needs to be met, instead of an abolition of this policy, which is really cruel to young children,” she said. “For a 2- or 3-year-old, I would say this is still kind of an indecently long time.”