NYC Indefinitely Extends Vaccine Mandate for Employers, School Mask Mandate for Toddlers

NYC Indefinitely Extends Vaccine Mandate for Employers, School Mask Mandate for Toddlers

Protesters gather in Brooklyn ahead of a march to city hall in New York City, October 25, 2021. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

New York City’s private employer vaccine mandate and the school mask mandate imposed on children five-and-under will remain in place indefinitely, the city’s new health commissioner announced Friday.

“I think it’s indefinite at this point,” Dr. Ashwin Vasan said at COVID-19 press briefing. “People who have tried to predict what will happen in this future for this pandemic have repeatedly found egg on their face, as they say. And I’m not going to do that here today.”

“I would love for me to sit here and say, I can give you a date or a data point for when we would lift those things,” he added. “Right now, we are in a low risk environment, and we will continue to evaluate that data.”

On March 2, New York State lifted its school mask mandate for kids ages five and up, keeping the requirement for those younger. Last week, however, New York City Mayor Eric Adams said the end was in sight for kids under five, promising to suspend the mask rule for them if Covid-19 cases remained low.

“If we don’t have a spike, we’re going to lift for your babies as well,” Adams said during a press briefing. “I want them taking their masks off.”

Vasan’s update Friday seems to fly in the face of that pledge, as he said public school students under five must continue to wear masks given the fact that they’re not yet eligible for the vaccine, despite the fact that young kids face extremely low risk of developing severe Covid-19 infections. New York City has supposedly experienced an increase in Omicron over the past few days. The city’s health department has been monitoring the BA.2 subvariant, which accounts for about 30 percent of cases.

“We have consistently seen disproportionate hospital rates in the under 5 population compared with other childhood groups, and as a father of a 2 1/2 year old and two other older kids, I want to keep them as safe as possible,” Vasan said. “I would love nothing more than to send my son to day care without a mask, but as a scientist and as a doctor and an epidemiologist, I want to keep him safe especially because he’s not eligible for a vaccine. We’re always looking at the data, as I’ve said, we have very clear benchmarks of how we are assessing risk, and we’ll keep reevaluating whether that mandate should be in place. And right now, we think it should stay in place.”

Vasan’s statement comes as most cities and states, even the very progressive ones once notorious for strict Covid-19 mitigation measures, have dropped their vaccine and mask requirements for workplaces and recreational activities amid a waning Omicron variant and improving case outcomes. Adams rescinded the city’s vaccine mandate for restaurants and other public indoor establishments earlier this month.

The uncertain timeline for the city’s employer vaccine mandate has disrupted the sports arena, as Brooklyn Nets star guard Kyrie Irving is still technically prohibited from playing in home games. He sat in the stands at a game as a fan recently, since that no longer requires proof-of-vaccination. Some onlookers, including the not-typically-Covid-19-skeptical late-night talk show host Trevor Noah, pointed out the cognitive dissonance of barring Irving from competing but allowing him to attend a game as a spectator.

Vasan’s declaration could also impact the New York Yankees, whose players Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo are believed to be unvaccinated, when baseball season starts in April.

Send a tip to the news team at NR.

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[By: Caroline Downey

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