Parents and teachers say they are concerned that New York City schools and city officials are not being forceful enough about encouraging indoor masking as COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses rise in the city ahead of winter break.
Data from the city health department shows that weekly COVID case rates have doubled among teenagers since late October and rose 76% in kids aged 5 to 12. Children have made up two-thirds of emergency department visits for flu-like illness since Thanksgiving.
The Department of Education’s COVID case map, meanwhile, reported 1,304 cases in the public school system as of Tuesday evening.
The winter spike prompted the health department to issue an indoor mask recommendation on Friday. This week, First Deputy Chancellor Dan Weisberg sent a letter to school leaders underscoring the notice.
“As always, we follow the guidance of our health experts,” he wrote. “Therefore … we are encouraging every student and staff member to mask up as we head into the winter season.”
But students, parents and educators at multiple schools told Gothamist only a small portion of children and staff are following the advisory. Some parents said school administrators had not even forwarded Weisberg’s message. The education department also posted a message online with a note about the health department’s new guidance on Monday. The note appeared after information about remote learning on upcoming snow days.
Heather Dailey, a parent in Queens, said she was disappointed she had not gotten more guidance directly from her school. “Not even COVID rates are up, here’s what you can do to protect your family.’”
Dailey asked not to name her school because she didn’t want to ruffle the leadership.
“I don’t think it’s a great idea to leave masks optional right now,” said Mary Ann Blau, a parent of elementary schoolers in Brooklyn. She said one of her kids was in close contact with a positive case last week, and more of the students in that child’s class wore masks as a result. “My sense is that masking has gone up in the last two weeks but I’m not sure.” Blau also said she did not want to name her children’s school in case it would upset the administration.
Adriana Aviles, a parent in Queens with three children in the city’s public schools, was less worried about the outbreak. She’d opted not to send her kids to school in masks.
“Masks are just another layer to hide faces, another barrier for them to have to fight through,” Aviles said.
Only one of her children’s schools had forwarded the mask advisory from Weisberg.
Mayor Eric Adams eliminated the mask mandate for most schoolchildren in March, lifting the mandate for toddlers and preschoolers in June.
Sara Kramer, a teacher at a Brooklyn charter school, said she has noticed a drop in attendance. Kramer was asked not to name the school because she was representing her own views, not the views of the school.
“People are getting sick and getting sick for a long time,” said Kramer.
She said students and staff generally wear masks if they have sniffles or are close to someone who is sick.
“None of us want to go remote again, and if wearing a mask helps prevent that, it's a small price to pay,” Kramer said.