With the last remaining school mask mandate for New York City children likely to be lifted by Mayor Eric Adams in early April, both proponents and opponents of the mandate said the end of the policy seems inevitable.

At a press conference at City Hall Tuesday, Adams said if COVID-19 rates remain low over the next two weeks, the mask mandate for 2- to 4-year-olds in 3K and pre-K classrooms and daycares will be removed April 4.

The mayor ended the school mask mandate for older kids in kindergarten and up on March 7, but kept the mandate for the youngest students in place because they were too young to be vaccinated. Children under the age of two were never required to wear a mask.

The political pressure from parents opposed to the mask mandate put Adams in a difficult place, according to one pediatrician who supported the mandate for unvaccinated school kids.

“I think reopening – and unmasking and everything – is an unstoppable tidal wave. Nobody's going to be able to get in front of it and make this stop, because I think there's just too many people demanding it,” said Dr. Jesse Hackell, the head of the state American Academy of Pediatrics’s Chapter 3, which covers Manhattan, the Bronx and Westchester.

The AAP still recommends unvaccinated children – which includes the entire population under age 5 who cannot get vaccinated – to wear masks inside schools.

Since the older students’ mask mandates were lifted, Adams has faced increasing calls from some parents and childcare administrators seeking to drop all mandates.

“I celebrate the victory because I think parents really needed to know that this was going to end but to be honest, this should never have happened in the first place,” said Natalya Murakhver of Manhattan, who has two children. Murakhver is also an organizer with a group that hired a truck to follow Adams with a mobile billboard around New York City this week demanding the children’s mask mandate be dropped. 

The mayor’s updated policy has the approval of the United Federation of Teachers union, which sent out a short statement.

"Our doctors agree that the time has come to make masks optional for the youngest children, as long as we continue to closely monitor the infection rate," said UFT spokesperson Alison Gendar Tuesday.

The mayor said the relaxing of the toddler mask mandate came after monitoring COVID rates among older students after their mask mandates were lifted.

“Since we removed the mask mandate for K-12 students, our percent of positivity has remained low, which is a great sign that we are moving at the right pace and doing the right thing. And so now it's time to peel back another layer in this entire initiative,” Adams said.

Hackell of the AAP said the timing of the mandate being lifted is strategic. With the April 4 target date, the city can monitor the omicron subvariant called BA.2 that’s been increasing numbers statewide. On Monday, the BA.2 subvariant accounted for about 40% of sequenced COVID-19 cases compared to three weeks ago, when it only made up 13% of cases, state health officials said.

If the COVID rates stay low enough to allow for 2-4-year-olds to drop the mask mandate on April 4, the city then has a chance to observe any increases in pediatric cases before the school system goes on spring break in mid-April, which could offer a potential reset, Hackell said.

“He can always put the brakes on if, two weeks from now, the numbers have continued to go up. And if they haven't, and he goes ahead and unmasks, then it's only two weeks before spring break,” Hackell said. “Then we have that spring break as kind of a buffer to say, ‘Whoops, it was too early, we're seeing an increase.’”

“I think he did a reasonably good job, given the time frame and what the calendar looks like, at being careful – and yet at the same time, appeasing the people who are demanding that everything be opened up and returned to normal,” Hackell added.

For Murakhver, even the two-week wait to lift the mandate seems unnecessary. 

“It's a suspension with many different conditions that need to be fulfilled, instead of an abolition of this policy, which is really cruel towards small children,” she said. “For a 2- or 3-year-old I'd say this is still kind of an obscene amount of time.”