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Adams hopes to keep mask requirement for NYC children under 5 amid COVID uptick

NYC Mayor Eric Adams speaks at a podium during a press conference, in front of a large staircase, as a man wearing a mask and glasses sits on a stool behind him.

Mayor Eric Adams hopes to keep a mask requirement for children under 5, though a Staten Island judge threw a wrench in that plan.

Ed Reed / Mayoral Photography Office

New York City Mayor Eric Adams hopes to keep a mask requirement in place for the city’s youngest students as the city sees an increase in COVID cases. But a Staten Island judge threw a wrench in that plan Friday by striking down the mandate. 

Adams vowed to appeal the judge’s ruling in an attempt to keep the requirement in place for children under 5, leaving it unclear whether students in pre-K or daycare programs will be required to wear face coverings Monday. Those under 5 are the only age group not currently eligible for COVID vaccines.

The mayor had planned to remove the mask mandate for the city’s youngest children next week as long as COVID transmission remained low. But with an uptick in virus cases and with the more contagious BA.2 variant circulating, the mayor said his health advisors recommended changing course.

“We’re recommending to wait a little bit longer before making masks optional for this age group,” said the city’s health commissioner, Dr. Ashwin Vasan. “We’re looking for the earliest opportunity to do this safely and we can assure you the day is coming for your children.”

Earlier Friday, however, a state judge ruled that the city’s mask mandate for young children is “arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable” and is therefore “void and unenforceable.” Adams indicated the city will appeal and try to block the judge’s decision, though a timeline for the city’s appeal or a possible ruling on it was not clear. The mayor said the city would abide by the court’s decision.

Adams’ attempt to keep the mask mandate for young children is notable because his administration has generally moved toward removing virus protection measures, including for bars, restaurants and gyms. Children under 5 are the last group of students covered by a mask mandate and the requirement for students in grades K-12 was lifted March 7, prompting criticism from some parents of younger children who urged the mayor to do the same for their kids.

Officials said they don’t plan to reinstate the mask mandate for students in grades K-12 despite the rise in cases, including among public school students and staff, but Vasan said it is his “strong recommendation” that people of all ages wear masks indoors for now “according to their level of comfort.” 

Adams urged calm on Friday and characterized the uptick in virus cases as “slight.” He indicated the city would continue to monitor the situation and “update New Yorkers in a week.”

“We want to be prepared, not panic,” he said.

Alex Zimmerman is a reporter for Chalkbeat New York, covering NYC public schools. Contact Alex at azimmerman@chalkbeat.org