New York City: Kids under 5 years old no longer need to wear masks in school as of April 4

  • NYC Mayor Eric Adams said the mask mandate for preschoolers will lift April 4.
  • The 0-5 age group is not yet eligible to get vaccinated for COVID-19, but case counts have been on the decline.
  • The mandate change will only happen if cases stay low as the BA.2 subvariant spreads abroad.

Children under five will no longer be required to wear masks in school starting April 4, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced Tuesday.

The policy change comes on the heels of a weekend protest held outside City Hall, where parents demanded an end to the mask mandate for the youngest kids in schools.

City officials lifted the mask mandate for older children earlier in March, with mixed reception from the K-12 students who had been covered by the mandate since 2020.

In a news conference at City Hall Tuesday, Adams said the move to eliminate the mask rule for preschoolers was contingent on both the declining COVID-19 case counts in the city and the impact of unmasking older students.

However, repealing mask mandates for the youngest kids in the city — about 95,000 students in preschool programs, the New York Times reported Tuesday — comes with a different set of risks. 

Kids younger than age 5 are not yet eligible to get vaccinated for COVID-19, and vaccine makers have paused the emergency authorization process while they wait for more data. Pfizer said a 3-dose regimen could provide kids with the extra protection they need, since the 0-5 age group will receive a smaller dose than other children.

With an Omicron subvariant picking up speed in Europe, cases could increase again in the US before vaccines are approved and available for all age groups. Officials said the subvariant known as BA.2 accounted for about 30 percent of cases in NYC as of Friday.

Officials are watching for another surge in cases

The BA.2 subvariant is more transmissible than the Omicron Americans got used to this winter, according to early monitoring data. Like the original Omicron variant, BA.2 has the ability to evade vaccine-induced immunity, but it doesn’t seem to cause more severe illness than previous strains.

With the possibility of another wave of cases looming, some city officials have expressed support for the mask mandate. The city’s new health commissioner, Ashwin Vasan, said Friday he believed young kids — including his own 2-year-old — should wear masks until they are able to get vaccinated.

In a Twitter thread Tuesday, Vasan acknowledged “how personal the issue of masks can be.”

“Let’s be respectful of whatever choice families make,” he wrote. “Let’s be kind to each other when it comes to how we manage our own risk. You don’t know what life circumstances someone might be accounting for in their choice to mask.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not recently updated its specific recommendations for mask-wearing in early education and childcare settings, which has been universal indoor masking for kids ages 2 and older. But according to the agency’s new COVID-19 Community Levels, most kids in the country do not need to wear masks in schools as long as case counts remain low.