Mayor Eric Adams said on Sunday that New York City was preparing to eliminate school mask mandates and vaccine requirements for restaurants, gyms and movie theaters by March 7 if reports of new coronavirus cases in the city remain low.
Many in the city hope the rollback will help restore a sense of normalcy in the city and boost its economic recovery. Both Mr. Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York has focused on reviving the city, where the unemployment rate has remained stubbornly high.
Mr. Adams, who has said for weeks that he was eager to remove virus-related restrictions, promised to make a final decision by Friday. He said he wanted to give business owners time to adapt — a nod to the toll that the virus and related restrictions have taken on small businesses.
Ms. Hochul announced on Sunday that a statewide mask mandate for schools would be lifted on Wednesday, leaving mask policy to local school officials after that.
The governor said the mandate had been vital in battling the Omicron surge, which has now largely receded. “When I look back at what was going on just a short time ago, I am so happy that we did have a mask requirement in place for schools at the time,” she said. “That’s how we kept these numbers from getting even worse.”
On Saturday, New York State announced a statewide seven-day average test positivity rate below 2 percent, and fewer than 2,000 hospitalizations, for the first time since last fall. The state is now reporting an average of about 2,400 new coronavirus cases a day, roughly the same as in early August and far below the peak of more than 74,000 a day in mid-January.
New York City’s vaccine mandate for indoor dining, movie theaters and gyms, known as the Key to NYC program, was imposed by Mr. Adams’s predecessor, Bill de Blasio. The city’s vaccine requirement for most municipal employees remains in effect.
About 59 percent of students in city schools have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, the city reported last week, compared with about 96 percent of adults.
Dr. Uché Blackstock, a doctor who focuses on health equity, said that student vaccination rates varied widely from one New York City neighborhood to another, and that her children, who attend public schools in the city, would continue to wear masks.
“Removing mask policies in these schools is dangerous,” she wrote on Twitter.
Sunday’s announcements were celebrated by many across the state. “The business community is eager to get beyond pandemic conditions and restrictions,” said Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City. And Republican lawmakers like Rob Ortt, the minority leader in the State Senate, called the moves long overdue.
However, in a recent poll by the Siena College Research Institute, 58 percent of New York registered voters said the state should wait to drop the mask mandate in schools until after reviewing data for early March. And 45 percent of respondents disapproved of the state dropping mask mandates in private businesses.
Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, which represents teachers in New York City, said the union would “confer with our own independent doctors, look at the data from take-home test kits and random in-school testing this week, and make sure all of that is taken into account as New York City reviews its own school masking policy.”