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NYC is trying to keep masks mandatory for children under 5 as cases rise

Mayor Eric Adams announced Friday that New York City will try to uphold its school mask mandate for children under 5 and that the city will appeal an order by a Staten Island judge who decided earlier in the day to strike it down.

Mr Adams also said the city would ask for a stay to allow the mask mandate to remain in effect. The mayor had previously said the mandate would be lifted from Monday if coronavirus cases don’t increase.

Mr Adams said preschoolers should continue to wear masks because they are too young to be vaccinated and cases are rising again in the city, a surge fueled by an Omicron subvariant, BA.2, which is now being tested dominated in the United States.

“New Yorkers, we want you to be prepared and not panic,” Mr Adams said at a press conference at City Hall.

The city health commissioner, Dr. Ashwin Vasan asked parents for “patience and mercy” while the city tried to keep New Yorkers safe.

“We recommend waiting a little longer before making masks optional for this age group,” said Dr. Vasan at the press conference.

Mr Adams had announced last week that he plans to end compulsory masks for children under the age of 5 in daycare and preschools from this Monday. But cases have increased in the last month, from about 500 daily cases in early March to about 1,250 daily cases. The city could soon transition from low-risk to medium-risk, according to a new color-coded alert system based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Above all, Manhattan is on the threshold.

“We expect to move to a higher risk category within a few weeks,” said Dr. Vasan.

Mr. Adams, a Democrat who took office in January, has focused on the city’s recovery from the pandemic and reversed some restrictions, including ending vaccination testing for restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues, known as the Key to NYC program and lifting a mask mandate for students in Kindergarten through Grade 12. He had been pressured by some parents to end the mask requirement for preschoolers.

He introduced the alert system last month, and the city issued “recommended actions” for each level of risk. According to the system, the city should consider reintroducing the Key to NYC program at a moderate risk level. If risk levels become high or extremely high, the city could again require masks indoors or ask residents to seek shelter on the spot.

Health experts fear BA.2, which has caused a surge in cases in Europe and Asia, could lead to another wave of the pandemic in the city and possibly across the country. They believe the real number of cases in New York could be higher than the data suggests because many people are testing at home without the results being officially reported.

Hospital admissions have remained low in New York City over the past month and currently stand at about 13 a day, although hospital admissions are often a lagging indicator. In January, when cases were last rising sharply, there were about 1,000 hospitalizations a day.

Mr Adams also said on Friday the city plans to distribute about six million home tests this month. Asked if he would consider reintroducing a mask mandate for older students, Mr Adams said he would “pivot and switch” depending on data and advice from his health team.

dr Vasan encouraged New Yorkers to get booster shots and wear masks in indoor public places, noting that he wore a mask at the press conference. He said he wanted to “exercise great caution” with young children, who had higher hospitalization rates during the Omicron surge.

BA.2 — the most transmissible version of the coronavirus identified so far — accounts for more than half of new virus cases in the United States, the CDC said this week. It accounts for about 70 percent of cases in the region, which includes New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico.

The mask requirement for children under the age of 5 applies to the city’s 4K and 3K preschool classes, which serve about 95,000 students, as well as all other preschool and daycare centers. New York never required children under the age of 2 to wear masks in daycare.

Regardless of what happens in court, Mr Adams encouraged parents to continue letting their children under the age of 5 wear masks.

“You should keep the masks on your children,” he said.

The judge ruling Friday’s preschool mask mandate, Ralph Porzio of the State Supreme Court on Staten Island, wrote in his order that the mandate was “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.” Mr Adams said he was confident the city would prevail in its appeal and that he would let parents know what to expect on Monday.

“We truly believe that this is within our power to do what is best for New York,” he said.

Michael Chessa, an attorney for the parents who challenged the mandate, said they wanted parents to have a choice and didn’t believe the city had set clear standards for lifting the requirement.

“Just to say that cases are increasing and 2-4 year olds can’t be vaccinated is just unacceptable,” he said. “It was fine in the spring of 2020, but now we’re way beyond that.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/01/nyregion/eric-adams-mask-mandate-children.html NYC is trying to keep masks mandatory for children under 5 as cases rise

Ethan Gach

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