NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- New York City is ending several COVID-19 safety protocols Monday, including mandatory masks in public schools and vaccination requirements at restaurants, entertainment and cultural venues.
Mayor Eric Adams made the announcement in Times Square Friday, saying that while the pandemic isn't over, he is confident that it is now safe to send children and teachers to school unmasked.
"We're far from out of the woods," he said. "COVID is still here. But we are beating it back."
He said it was time for New Yorkers to "celebrate" and implored them to "go out this weekend and go dine."
It comes on the same day the city health department announced that estimations show that since December of 2020, the city's COVID-19 vaccination campaign has prevented 48,000 deaths, 300,000 hospitalizations, and 1.9 million cases, according to an analysis by epidemiologists at Yale University.
"COVID-19 vaccines have saved so many lives and prevented an immense amount of suffering," Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said. "Nearly 48,000 New Yorkers will celebrate another birthday this year due to the power of vaccination."
The modeling indicates that without vaccinations, tens of thousands of more lives could have been lost to COVID-19.
Individual businesses will still decide to keep mandates in place if they choose, but as of Monday, the city will no longer require they check guests' vaccine cards.
"New York City's restaurant and nightlife industry has been devastated by COVID-19, and over the past two years, these small businesses have endured ever changing pandemic mandates that have posed significant challenges to their operations, yet they've fought hard to persevere, and to feed and serve our city during this time of crisis," NYC Hospitality Alliance Executive Director Andrew Rigie said. "Now, with our city achieving a high vaccination rate, a low infection rate, and as we enter the next stage of our city's recovery, we must continue to be safe and smart, and modify mandates as the situation evolves. That's why it's with optimism and the careful consideration of many, that we stand in solidary with our Mayor Eric Adams, public health officials, and community leaders to lift the city's temporary proof of vaccination mandate for indoor dining, as an important step in our resilient city's revival."
Adams gave credit to Dr. Chokshi for staying on as the city's health commissioner until the new health commissioner, Ashwin Vasan, takes over. He also thanked all of the first responders for their work during the pandemic.
Adams said the city's COVID positivity rate is down 1.8%, and more than 17 million vaccine doses have been administered in the city.
"Two years ago, New York City was the epicenter of the pandemic, but thanks to New Yorkers getting vaccinated and getting boosted we have made tremendous progress," Adams said. "I've said time and time again that the numbers and science will guide us as we continue to recover and rebuild, and now New York City is back, and vaccinations are why we're back. New Yorkers should be getting out and enjoying our amazing city. The fight may not be over, but we're clearly winning the war. We are open for business and New York City has its groove back."
Beginning Monday, March 7:
--Key2NYC rules will be suspended. Indoor venues, including restaurants, fitness facilities, and entertainment spaces will no longer be required to check for proof of vaccination before customers enter. Businesses previously covered by Key2NYC rules will still have the flexibility to require proof of vaccination or masking indoors if they choose.
--Masks will no longer be required on public school grounds for kindergarten to 12th grade students. While these public school children will be able to remove their masks, if they so choose, schools will continue to maintain strict COVID-19 protocols, including increased ventilation, a daily screener to ensure those with symptoms do not come to school, and test kit distribution. Masks will continue to be required for all settings with children under 5 years of age (where none of the population is yet eligible for the vaccine), including programs contracted by the New York City Department of Education with 3- and 4-year-old children as well as 3k and 4K classrooms in district schools.
"Our doctors agree with the city's medical experts that this is the right time to safely move from a mask mandate to an optional mask system," UFT President Michael Mulgrew said. "Both the take-home tests and the in-school random tests showed no post-holiday spike and put the infection rate at less than 1%. This is the responsible, thoughtful way to make our next transition. We will, however, keep our testing program in place - both in-school and the take-home tests - to make sure we remain on the right path."
Adams said spacing continues in schools, and he's not ready to remove mask mandates for kids under age 5 because they are unvaccinated.
"When you looked at those under 5, they were more likely to be hospitalized," Adams said." People wanted to say let's lift it across the board. But that's not what the science is telling us."
Adams also announced that all other COVID-19 mandates will remain in effect. Under the rules, employees will still be required to be vaccinated unless they have received a reasonable accommodation from their employer.
Broadway theaters announced they will continue to require masks through the month of March and reevaluate at the beginning of April
"Our current guidance is through April 30 and we are scheduled to update that guidance on April 1," Broadway League President Charlotte St. Martin said. "Discussions are held weekly on our protocols and at this point, there is no change to our guidance. We will, of course, let you know when it changes."
Additionally, Adams released a new color-coded system that tracks COVID-19 alerts and keeps New York City residents apprised of the risks they face.
The system consists of four alert levels that outline precautions and recommended actions for individuals and government based on the CDC Community Burden Indicator.
"Our new COVID Alert system gives New Yorkers a roadmap for how to reduce their own risk in the event that we see another surge or increase in transmission," Dr. Chokshi said. "COVID Alert will keep New Yorkers informed, including about actions to expect from city government. As we look to the months ahead, we must continue to do all we can to prevent unnecessary suffering due to COVID-19."
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)
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