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New York’s Students Shed Their Masks, Warily, in Pandemic Milestone

Not all New York’s students were ready to give up masks, even after Mayor Eric Adams said they could.

A kindergartner in Queens wasn’t quite ready to part with his Mickey Mouse masks. On Staten Island, another kindergartner had lost one of his bottom teeth and couldn’t wait to show off his new smile. And a high school student, Ella Chan, 17, a junior at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, said she was keeping her mask on. “There really is no cure for Covid at this point,” she said. “There’s just too much uncertainty for me.” Two years after the coronavirus pandemic gripped New York, Monday marked the city’s most aggressive move yet to return to normalcy. Officials eliminated a school mask mandate that had been in place since the fall of 2020, a major milestone in the city’s recovery from a public health crisis that upended the lives of nearly 1 million students in the nation’s largest school system. It came on the same day that the city also suspended its proof of vaccination requirement to enter restaurants, gyms and other entertainment venues.

The moves underscore Mayor Eric Adams’s intensive push to revive the city and bring its schools, businesses and street life back to normal, a campaign he considers essential for resuscitating the city’s pandemic-stricken economy. “We did our jobs as New Yorkers, and now we’re winning,” Mr. Adams said on Monday in a television interview. Though many business leaders, the teachers’ union and the city’s health officials have applauded the effort, some health experts and other elected officials have raised concerns that it might be too soon to lift many restrictions, including around masks.

And around the city, students, parents and school employees all wondered whether it was time for New York to return to life before the pandemic or if another crushing setback lurked around the corner.

On Staten Island, Emma Billera, 7, a second-grader at Public School 1 in Tottenville, said taking her mask off made her feel “happy, so you can breathe.” But at Nelson Mandela High School in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, LaShawn Farrell expected her daughter, a ninth grader who has not been vaccinated, to keep her mask on. “I don’t think taking off the mask right now is something that’s being safe,” Ms. Farrell said, adding that she did not think vaccines were safe for her child.

Some students and parents in neighborhoods with lower vaccination rates said they were wary about getting rid of masks in schools.

Credit...Ahmed Gaber for The New York Times

Other major cities have also loosened school mask mandates in recent weeks. Dallas and Houston have made masks optional at schools. Los Angeles County will end its school mask requirements after March 11, allowing school districts to set their own rules. But the City of Los Angeles will keep masks in place in its schools, the nation’s second largest district. Chicago school officials announced plans on Monday to lift the mask mandate for the nation's third-largest school district as of March 14, angering its teachers’ union. New Jersey’s school mask mandate was also lifted on Monday.

And the Supreme Court on Monday rejected the latest effort by New York City teachers to challenge the vaccine mandate.

In New York City, children under 5 are still required to wear masks in day care and preschool settings, which has angered some parents. A protest against the rule was held on Monday in City Hall Park.


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