Mayor Eric Adams’ moves to suspend vaccine requirements for indoor businesses and mask mandates for K-12 public school students this morning drew applause from the city’s largest hospitality trade group and teachers’ union.
NYC Hospitality Alliance Executive Director Andrew Rigie stood with Adams as the mayor announced his plan to roll back some of the city’s key COVID-19 restrictions this morning in the heart of Times Square. Rigie said lifting these requirements will be a boon to the city’s businesses that have had to survive while navigating shutdowns and mandates since the start of the pandemic nearly two years ago.
“Unfortunately, we’ve lost 1000s of beloved businesses,” Rigie said. “We’ve lost jobs. We struggled together. But we’ve been resilient. And as this pandemic evolved. As the situation evolves, we need to continue to adjust to 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, because without them, New York City never recovers. Let’s bring our city back, this is a great start. And no better place to do it than the crossroads of the world.”
When the requirement for indoor businesses to ask their customers for proof of vaccination – known as the Key to NYC program – ends Monday, it’ll be up to individual businesses to set and enforce their own vaccine rules. This change applies to businesses including restaurants, gyms, venues and entertainment centers.
Additionally, Adams’ decision to lift mask requirements in the city’s public schools was welcomed by the United Federation of Teachers (UFT).
“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,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. “Both the take-home tests and the in-school random tests showed no post-holiday spike and put the infection rate at less than 1 percent. This is the responsible, thoughtful way to make our next transition. 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.”
However, Councilwoman Rita Joseph (D – Brooklyn), who chairs the council’s Committee on Education, said in a release that only 52 percent of children attending city public schools are vaccinated. Joseph, a former public school teacher herself, thinks that number is too low.
“This figure is even lower in communities of color and working-class school districts,” Joseph said. “We must continue and strengthen our vaccination efforts in these communities. At PS 6 in Brooklyn, the school where I taught for 22 years, less than a quarter of students are fully vaccinated. That simply is not good enough. The city needs to continue following the science so that we make public policy decisions that work in the best interest of New York families.”
While masks can be taken off in the classroom as of Monday, the mayor said other COVID-19 school safety measures like increased ventilation and daily screenings for symptoms will remain in place. Masks will still be required for students under five and those who feel more comfortable continuing to wear them can do so.
Although City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams broadly supported the mayor’s decision to end these mandates, she cautioned his administration to be ready to impose new restrictions in response to any new COVID-19 variants and spikes.
“As has been the case throughout the pandemic, it will be critical for the City to remain flexible and willing to allow the status of COVID’s impact on our city to dictate our policies,” Adams said. “We must not be afraid to enact more stringent policies if the public health environment requires it, just as we cannot fear loosening policies as conditions improve.”
Adams said his administration will be using a new four-tiered color coded alert system to help assess the virus’ current threat level to the city. Outgoing New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said if this new system detects a high enough threat from COVID-19, the city could impose stricter mandates again.
“If we do see a higher level of cases and or hospitalization, we will, as the mayor has already said, reconsider whether Key to NYC or other vaccine requirements are warranted,” Chokshi said. “But that’s not something that will be automatically done, in part because it depends on the nature of a new variant. Exactly what the velocity of increase is. (And) what’s happening in our hospitals.”