New York City will make mask wearing optional for children younger than 5 if COVID-19 rates remain low over the next two weeks, Mayor Eric Adams said Tuesday.

“We want to see our babies’ faces,” Adams said during a press conference at City Hall with health officials and City Council members, adding the change will take effect on April 4th.

He prefaced his remarks by saying the city was currently at a low risk for COVID-19, based on the city’s color-coded alert system which was inspired by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adams said the mandate would only be lifted if the conditions remain that way. According to the latest CDC data, which is based on reporting from the New York City health department, the city’s seven-day case average rose above 1,000 on Monday for the first time since late February.

The decision comes as the mayor faces pressure to lift mask mandates for the youngest children, after removing similar measures in public schools for kids older than 5 earlier this month. At the same time, an omicron subvariant called BA.2 is growing in prominence statewide. New York Health officials said Monday that it now accounts for about 40% of sequenced cases. About three weeks ago, BA.2 only amounted to 13% of cases.

When Adams dropped masks in public schools, he said at the time that he would revisit the rule for younger children since they are not eligible to be vaccinated against coronavirus. The current mask mandate applies only to children between 2 and 4 in schools and childcare settings.

While some approached the lifting of restrictions with unease, the exception left some parents of younger children angry. They have staged protests at City Hall and his press conferences in recent weeks, demanding that the mayor remove the mandate for all children.

Last Thursday, Adams was met with one group of parents outside a bar he was visiting as part of the St. Patrick’s Day festivities. “I got this, I’ll take care of this,” he said. “There will be no masks.”

But the following day, the city’s health commissioner, Dr. Ashwin Vasan, seemed to contradict the mayor, saying that mask mandates for children under 5 could remain in place “indefinitely.”

On Tuesday, Adams said he had heard arguments from both sides.

“We're getting a large number of parents that are saying, 'Please don't take the mask off at school.’” he said. “So the only way you do it right is to follow the science and follow the numbers and that is what we're doing.”

Following the press conference, Vasan told Gothamist he expected that masks could come off for those under 5 as long as the city stayed within the low community spread or “green” category, although he was reluctant to link any one policy to a particular level.

“I know that people are really thinking carefully about cases, but it's also about hospital capacity and bed occupancy,” Vasan said.

Gov. Kathy Hochul and her health officials acknowledged the small uptick in cases on Monday, but said they didn’t expect a steep surge like the ones seen in the U.K. or Europe. They noted that cases were down dramatically compared to the January surge and that hospitalizations are still relatively low.

“We are not in alarmist mode," she said. "We are not panicking over this. We're just watching the numbers."

But in the U.K., the BA.2 variant gradually grew for more than a month before causing the country’s current surge in cases and hospitalizations that started in late February. State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett encouraged New Yorkers to get tested early so they can take advantage of treatment such as COVID pills. And she called for people to improve the state’s booster rate.

“If you're eligible for a booster, now is the time to get boosted,” Bassett said. “As of March 20th, among people who are 18 and older, we had about 45% of people in New York state who were eligible for the booster remain unboosted.”