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NYC schools could lift mask mandate by March 7

FRIDAY, APRIL 9, 2021- Brooklyn, New York: Alandinio Cineas,16, works through a math problem with his tutor at Brooklyn High School for Excellence and Equity in Canarsie. CREDIT: Gabriela Bhaskar for Chalkbeat

A Brooklyn high school student wears a mask in school last spring. Mayor Eric Adams could lift New York City’s mask mandate as early as March 7.

Gabriela Bhaskar for Chalkbeat

New York City could lift its mask mandate for public schools on March 7, Mayor Eric Adams said Sunday. 

His announcement came hours after Gov. Kathy Hochul lifted the statewide mask mandate for schools starting March 2. Her decision to end the mandate follows new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that says schools can ditch face coverings if the surrounding community has low to moderate case rates and hospitalizations, and hospitals aren’t overburdened. 

The CDC considers New York City to have a “low” community level of COVID indicators — meaning it has a low number of hospitalizations and new COVID cases. 

Adams said the city will make a final decision by March 4, after officials “evaluate the numbers” of COVID infection rates, hospitalizations, and vaccination rates. If there are no “unforeseen spikes and our numbers continue to show a low level of risk,” the city would lift the mask mandate for schools, effective March 7.

City officials already announced plans to drop outdoor masking when schools returned from mid-winter recess on Feb. 28. 

Students and staff can continue wearing masks if they prefer to keep them on. 

“Our schools have been among the safest places for our children since the beginning of the pandemic,” Adams said in the statement, “and we will continue to make the proper public health decisions to keep our kids safe, including making masks available for any child or school staff member who wishes to continue wearing them.” 

It was not immediately clear whether school-level vaccination rates would also be considered. The city recently released data showing that 52% of public school students are vaccinated. 

Earlier this month, Hochul strongly suggested she would end masking in schools but would make the decision based on COVID case rates, hospitalizations, and vaccinations. 

“Now, with COVID cases declining by 98% since the Omicron peak and updated @CDCgov guidance in place, we will lift the statewide school mask requirement this coming Wednesday,” Hochul said in a tweet. 

There is little rigorous evidence on the effectiveness of masking in schools, but families are split on whether to keep them around. 

A recent Siena poll of 803 New York registered voters found that, among New York City respondents, 64% believe data should be examined in early March before a decision is made about masking in schools. Just 9% of New York City respondents believe the mandate should end after February break, while 26% believe mask mandates should have already ended.

Several students, however, recently told Chalkbeat that even though they found mask-wearing uncomfortable at times, they still preferred to keep their faces covered.

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