It’s official: New York City Mayor Eric Adams has announced masks will be optional for public school students, K-12, and staff starting Monday, March 7th. 

"I know there are some parents who state they still want their children to wear their masks, you can," Adams said. But for those who are ready to take off their masks: "We want to see the faces of our children, we want to see their smiles … we want to see when they’re feeling sad so we can comfort them.”

City leaders said public school children under five will still be required to wear masks because they aren't eligible for COVID vaccines yet.  Kids younger than two years have not been required to wear masks in child care settings.

Even as face coverings become optional, the Department of Education will continue to offer masks on campuses for students, teachers, and staff, said Amaris Cockfield, a spokesperson for the mayor. Officials said the department will also renew efforts to vaccinate students, targeting school communities with lower vaccination rates.

As of February 22nd, 51.6% of eligible New York City public school students have been vaccinated, according to DOE data.

Education department guidance sent to schools noted that any staff or K-12 students returning to the school on Day 6 after a positive COVID test would be required to wear a mask through Day 10. The guidance also said that masks are "strongly recommended for any staff member or student who knows they have been exposed to Covid-19 within the previous 10 days." 

Last Sunday, following Governor Kathy Hochul’s announcement that the state would lift the mask mandate for schools on Wednesday, Adams sent out a statement saying the city would do the same the following Monday, if infections remained relatively low this week. 

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and City Comptroller Brad Lander have asked Adams to require students be vaccinated by the 2022-2023 school year and suggested other measures, such as ensuring school ventilation systems are up-to-date, to ensure the safety of school communities. 

Adams touted the city's low COVID positivity rates—a citywide seven-day average of 1.8% and 0.18% in schools (although not all school students and staff are being tested)—and vaccination rates when making his announcement.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said the teachers union's expert agreed that masks could become option now. "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 percent," he said in a statement. "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."

The news comes as politicians across the country are lifting mask mandates, and as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed recommendations for indoor masking for communities where COVID transmission has trended down after the omicron surge. 

When asked why children under five were required to masks, the data shows that age group are "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 was showing us."