Students across New York City’s public schools will have their first mask free day in almost two years this Monday, following the Mayor’s cancellation of numerous COVID-19 restrictions.

Mayor Eric Adams announced Friday that due to “quickly declining COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations and more than 17 million doses of vaccines administered,” he was suspending the Key to NYC program and the indoor mask mandates in city public schools for K-12 students.

“Two years ago, New York City was the epicenter of the pandemic, but thanks to New Yorkers getting vaccinated and getting boosted we have made tremendous progress,” Adams said.

“I’ve said time and time again that the numbers and science will guide us as we continue to recover and rebuild, and now New York City is back, and vaccinations are why we’re back.”

As of Monday, March 7, indoor venues, including restaurants, fitness facilities and entertainment spaces will no longer be required to check for proof of vaccination. Businesses previously covered by Key to NYC rules will still have the flexibility to require proof of vaccination or masking indoors if they choose.

Also starting Monday, masks will no longer be required on public school grounds for kindergarten to 12th grade students. Adams said schools will continue to maintain strict COVID-19 protocols, including increased ventilation, a daily screener to ensure those with symptoms do not come to school and test kit distribution.

Masks will continue to be required for all settings with children under 5 (who are not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine), including programs contracted by the New York City Department of Education.

All other COVID-19 mandates will remain in effect, including that City and private employees must be vaccinated unless they have received a reasonable accommodation from their employer.

“New Yorkers should be getting out and enjoying our amazing city,” Adams said as part of the announcement. “The fight may not be over, but we’re clearly winning the war. We are open for business and New York City has its groove back.”

Adams introduced a new color-coded system to track the COVID-19 risk level in the city, saying it would better help New Yorkers understand the current level of COVID-19 risk and how they can best protect themselves and others based on the current risk.

The system consists of four alert levels that outline precautions and recommended actions for individuals and government based on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Community Burden Indicator. The colors are green for low risk, yellow for medium, orange for high and red for very high risk.

In response to the Mayor’s announcement, City Council Speaker Adrienne E. Adams and various Council members voiced concerns about how the relaxation of the restrictions could further entrench inequities in how COVID-19 has been felt across the city, and in the continual vaccine rollout.

Speaker Adams said the Council members were urging the City to focus “on clear and well-coordinated communication, an intensive effort to attack severe public health disparities across our schools and neighborhoods, and a commitment to allowing public health experts to guide policy shifts based on the conditions.

“The city must clearly communicate to all stakeholders, including parents, students, and educators about the details of these changes to avoid any confusion about the mask policies in our schools, especially given the various different messages being delivered at the federal and state levels,” Adams said.

According to Ultius essay the wearing of masks in public places and indoors can protect people even if they are in tight communication and ensure the security of the educational process.

Brooklyn Councilmember Rita Joseph noted that at P.S. 6, where she had taught for 22 years, less than a quarter of students were fully vaccinated.

“That simply is not good enough. Additionally, we need to particularly mindful of intergenerational households where a student getting COVID could be particularly dangerous to an elderly grandparent,” she said.

She said the city had to continue following the science and basing all public policy decisions of that data to protect the city’s families.

“Currently, only 52% of New York City’s public school children are vaccinated. This figure is even lower in communities of color and working-class school districts. We must continue and strengthen our vaccination efforts in these communities,” she said.

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Anna Bradley-Smith

Anna Bradley-Smith is Brooklyn-based reporter with bylines in NBC, VICE, Slate and others. Follow her on Twitter @annabradsmith.

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