New York City, the first U.S. metropolis to require vaccinations indoors, will lift its mandate for indoor businesses, dining and events in the coming days.
Mayor Eric Adams announced Sunday that his administration would end its vaccination mandate requirements on March 7 as long as Covid-19 case numbers continue to trend downward. He joins public officials who made similar decisions in cities such as Seattle and Boston in recent weeks.
The indoor mask mandate will also be lifted in public schools the same day provided no unexpected spikes arise, Adams said.
He noted that more than a million students return to public schools Monday after the midwinter break. A week of commingling on campuses without "unforeseen spikes" in case numbers would confirm the end of mandatory masks for school facilities for now, he said in a statement Sunday.
“New York City’s numbers continue to go down day after day, so, as long as COVID indicators show a low level of risk and we see no surprises this week, on Monday, March 7 we will also lift Key2NYC requirements," Adams announced. "This will give business owners the time to adapt and will allow us to ensure we are making the best public health decisions for the people of New York."
The news came as the U.S. House sergeant-at-arms said masks are "now an individual choice" for people attending Tuesday's State of the Union address in the House chamber in Washington. Dr. Brian P. Monahan, the attending physician of Congress, wrote in a coronavirus update Sunday that Washington's relatively low level of transmission triggered the change to optional mask-wearing at the Capitol.
New York City's mandate, which was first announced in August, requires patrons to show proof of vaccination.
Although it is not always enforced, the vaccination requirement applies to restaurants, bars, nightclubs, coffee shops, fast food eateries, indoor fitness locations, movie theaters, music and concert venues, museums, sports arenas and stadiums, theaters and billiard halls, among other places.
Adams had indicated that he was eagerly planning its end at an economic development news conference Wednesday.He said he meets daily with health experts, who have provided structure and benchmarks the city should meet before it returns to pre-pandemic normalcy.
"We can't close down again, and I'm not going to do something at my anticipation to get back that's going to jeopardize closing down the city again," Adams said. "Our economy can't handle it. We don't have another $11 billion to put back in the economy. We must do it the smart way."
Gov. Kathy Hochul allowed the statewide mask policy to expire after a temporary extension into February as cases dropped. The mandate had also been subject to a legal challenge.
She cited decreasing case numbers and New York's status as the state with the most adults and teenagers who are fully vaccinated.
"We are now entering a new phase of the pandemic," Hochul said in a statement. "Because New Yorkers have stepped up, we can confidently remove the statewide mask requirement in our schools."
Public health experts previously cautioned that the pandemic is not over yet and that surges have come and gone over the last two years.
"This seems like a move to promote normalcy without there really being normalcy,” said Dr. Sadiya Khan, an epidemiologist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Vaccine mandates are safe and effective public health strategies, and backing down on this is likely to worsen spread.”
While more than 96 percent of adults in New York City have been at least partly vaccinated, experts have still warned that risks remain for those who are immunocompromised or who cannot be vaccinated.
No vaccine is approved for children under age 5, as Pfizer recently pulled its plan to ask for authorization from the Food and Drug Administration as it waits for more data on a potential three-dose series.