By STEVE BITTENBENDER
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – Saying it’s time for New York City to celebrate getting “its groove back,” Mayor Eric Adams on Friday announced new policies related to managing the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking at Times Square, Mayor Adams said masks will become optional at public schools. In addition, Mr. Adams also suspended the city’s vaccine requirement for such indoor venues like restaurants, theaters and gyms.
Both changes will take effect on Monday.
The announcements were expected. After New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced last weekend the state was planning to lift its school mask mandate as of Wednesday, Mayor Adams had announced he would follow suit with his changes as long as there was no unexpected spike in cases.
Mayor Adams said students can continue to wear masks in kindergarten through 12th grade. Facial coverings will remain mandatory for all settings where there are children younger than 5 years of age. Currently, there is not a COVID-19 vaccine available for kids that age.
There was talk of lifting the mask mandate for the youngest children. However, Mr. Adams said the data showed that age group had the highest hospitalization rate among children.
“I would rather have people complain against me than losing our babies in our city,” he said.
He also praised the city’s business community, noting a 94% compliance with the vaccine mandate. The city will continue to recommend – but not mandate – mask wearing in large gatherings. Still, businesses will have the option of requiring either masks or vaccines to gain admittance.
But now that the coronavirus is showing evidence of waning significantly after two years, Mayor Adams said now is the time to focus on reviving the city’s economy.
“New Yorkers should be getting out and enjoying our amazing city,” he said. “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.”
Mr. Adams also unveiled a new color-coded system to identify the COVID-19 threat level in the city. The colors range from red, meaning “very high,” to green, meaning “low.”
The city currently is at a green level, meaning there is a low community spread. Higher levels could lead to a return to mask and vaccine mandates.
The focus, though, on Friday wasn’t what might happen but what officials and business leaders want to happen as the city emerges from the throes of the health emergency.
“We need to be smart. We need to be safe,” Andrew Rigie, executive director for the New York City Hospitality Alliance, said. “But we need to stand together and support our restaurants, support our nightlife. Because without them, New York City never recovers.”