NYC to lift school mask rules, vaccine mandates for dining

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City will lift mandates next week requiring masks in public schools and proof of vaccination to dine in restaurants or enter entertainment, sports and cultural venues, Mayor Eric Adams announced Friday.
Standing in Times Square, Adams said that while the COVID-19 pandemic isn't over, he was confident that it is now safe to send children to school unmasked.
“We want to see the faces of our children. We want to see their smiles,” the mayor said, adding that parents could continue to send their kids to school with face coverings if they wished.
The mayor, a Democrat, last weekend said he would lift the mandates if infections and hospitalizations continued a downward trend. He stressed that the mandates could be re-imposed if a new variant emerges that, like omicron, poses a special danger.
“If we see a rise in cases or hospitalizes, we are going to come back,” Adams said.
Individual businesses can still decide to keep mandates in place if they choose, but the city will no longer require they check guests' vaccine cards.
The Broadway League has said it will maintain mask and vaccination requirements in all its theaters at least through April 30.
Adams' decision comes as New York’s Gov. Kathy Hochul earlier this week lifted the statewide mask mandate in schools, citing new federal guidelines and a sharp drop in COVID-19 infections.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said late last month that most Americans can now safely take a break from wearing masks, including students in schools.
Adams, who took office earlier this year, has said the virus cannot control people’s lives and the city needs to get back to normal. The school mask mandate and Key2NYC vaccination rules were both imposed by his predecessor, Bill de Blasio.
The elimination of the school mask requirement is a remarkable turnaround from just a few months ago, when some parents and teachers were agitating for a return to remote learning as the omicron wave swept through schools.
More than 137,500 public school students and 40,300 teachers have gotten the virus since the start of the school year.
Children under age 5 would still have to wear masks because they are not eligible for the vaccine, under city rules.
The Key2NYC program required New Yorkers and tourists to show proof of vaccination to enter restaurants and bars, work out in gyms, catch a movie, attend a Broadway show, go to a convention or visit a museum.
The rules also famously barred star Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving from playing home games with the team. But Adams has said so far that he plans to preserve a rule requiring private employers to ensure their workers are vaccinated, which would apply to Irving.
By lifting the Key2NYC rule, Irving would be allowed to attend the Nets’ home games as a spectator but not play.
Recently, New York City has been averaging just under 680 new coronavirus cases and 25 deaths each day, down from nearly 41,000 new cases and nearly 130 deaths per day at the height of the omicron wave in January.
The virus continues to hospitalize and kill New Yorkers with greater frequency now than it did last summer and through much of the fall, when many of the vaccination and school masking rules were imposed.