NYC Lifts Proof of Vaccination Mandate, School Mask Requirements

New York City is lifting school mask mandates and proof of vaccination requirements for several indoor venues starting Monday, Mayor Eric Adams said in Times Square Friday.

Masks will no longer be required in K-12 schools, but are still required in places with children younger than five years old. Restaurants, gyms and other entertainment venues will also no longer be required to check for proof of COVID-19 vaccination before allowing someone to enter, the mayor's office said.

However, venues will still be allowed to require proof of vaccination or masks if they choose to do so. The announcement comes as Adams has said several times in recent weeks, including earlier this week, that he believed the city would be prepared to change its policies.

"New York City's restaurant and nightlife industry has been devastated by COVID-19, and over the past two years these small businesses have endured ever changing pandemic mandates that have posed significant challenges to their operations, yet they've fought hard to persevere, and to feed and serve our city during this time of crisis," NYC Hospitality Alliance Executive Director Andrew Rigie said in a statement to Newsweek.

"Now, with our city achieving a high vaccination rate, a low infection rate, and as we enter the next stage of our city's recovery, we must continue to be safe and smart, and modify mandates as the situation evolves," he added. "That's why it's with optimism and the careful consideration of many, that we stand in solidary with our Mayor Eric Adams, public health officials, and community leaders to lift the city's temporary proof of vaccination mandate for indoor dining, as an important step in our resilient city's revival."

Adams' office said that anyone who wants to continue to wear masks in public or in schools can do so if they choose, a move the city's largest teachers union agrees with.

"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," United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement to Newsweek. "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."

Adams said that masks will still be required on public transportation and in healthcare facilities across the city.

New York City Health Commissioner David Chokshi, who also spoke at the Times Square event, said over 77 percent of the city's eligible population is vaccinated, which he estimated has prevented over 48,000 deaths.

Earlier this week, New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced an end to the statewide school mask mandate, citing dropping case numbers and the updated guidance recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that said many Americans would be able to end mask-wearing for the time being.

"Today marks another milestone for New York City with Mayor Adams announcing an end to the vaccine mandate. We are moving in the right direction and this will undoubtedly build economic momentum and consumer confidence," Melissa Fleischut, president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association, said in a statement to Newsweek. "A return to a traditional sense of normalcy is on the horizon and our members are eager to safely welcome back patrons as we head into warmer months. While restaurants are still struggling, this is another sign of hope."

Adams said the city's decision was motivated by the continued improvement of several metrics tracked by the health department, including the 0.18 percent positivity rate of tests conducted by the school system, WNBC-TV reported.

"We want to see the faces of our children, we want to see their smiles, we want to see how happy they are, we want to see when they're feeling sad so we can be there to comfort them. The masks prevented us from doing so for almost two years," the mayor said. "We are not going to get in the way of your discretion and we want New Yorkers to be smart, flexible and be able to feel comfortable without any bullying, without any teasing. If you feel comfortable wearing your mask feel free to do so."

Update 3/4/22 4:20 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with statements from the New York State Restaurant Association and the New York City Hospitality Alliance.

Update 3/4/22 11:56 a.m. ET: This story has been updated with additional context and information, as well as a statement from the United Federation of Teachers.

Eric Adams New York City Schools COVID
New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced Friday that the city is ending school mask requirements and proof of vaccination requirements across several indoor venues starting next Monday. Above, Adams walks the trading floor before ringing the Opening Bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on Monday. Spencer Platt/Getty Images