Opinion: Adams, take away the mask mandate but keep the vax

New York City has removed the mask mandate in public schools, but it is an irresponsible choice to have also gotten rid of proof of vaccination requirements.

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Manasa Gudavalli

New York City has removed its mask and vaccine mandate, but regulations must be lifted at a more measured pace if Mayor Eric Adams wants to keep the community safe. (Staff Illustration by Manasa Gudavalli)

Alexandra Cohen, Deputy Opinion Editor

One of my classes starts around the time the elementary school day ends, so I find myself passing by excited children leaving school as I go past Grace Church School on my way to class. I watch the children greet their parents in their uniforms and I am taken back to my own childhood. My uniform was similar — a polo and skirt. In fact, I wore this same exact outfit on the first day of kindergarten as I did on my first day of senior year. There is one common aspect of their uniforms and mine that particularly stands out: a mask. The mask was a permission to depart from the era of Zoom and do what kids and teens should do — go to school. 

New York City schools have been back in person since the beginning of this school year, taking a brief pause as the omicron variant emerged. On March 7, New York City public schools made face coverings optional for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. As cases begin to decline throughout New York City, this is the best way to reinstate normalcy for school children. However, I beg Mayor Eric Adams to loosen COVID-19 restrictions slowly and deliberately. If we return to a pre-COVID world too fast, we will fall into an endless cycle of deaths, masks and mandates. 

Adams ended the vaccine requirement for indoor spaces on March 7, so now businesses like restaurants and gyms no longer have to require proof of vaccination in order for patrons to enter their establishments. 86.2% of New York city residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 77.2% are fully vaccinated. Those are impressive numbers considering the large population of New York City. Those who are fully vaccinated have been able to dine in restaurants and participate in many indoor activities while protecting themselves and essential workers with the vaccine. The implementation of a free-for-all approach to mask wearing is too much too soon. 

Lifting the mask mandate is a good thing for childhood development. Masks can hinder speech development for infants and limit the emotional intelligence of toddlers and young children. It is crucial that kids learn to socialize and learn in a post-COVID-19 recovery time — one where they can see their friends’ entire faces. However, their socialization should not come at the expense of illness. The irresponsibility of removing vaccine mandates as children return to school maskless sets New York City up for another wave of COVID-19 — one that will be combated with the same mandates that were just removed. 

Adams has vowed to bring New York City back, but his removal of safeguards should be taken one step at a time. Just this week, New York City saw an average of 16.6 deaths per day, a number significantly lower than the 94 deaths per day average that the city saw a year ago. The pandemic is getting better and removing mask mandates is a reasonable and necessary step to move to a closer-to-normal world and New York. But must it come with the lifting of the mask requirement? Adams should continue to push the 23% of New York City residents who have not gotten vaccinated to get their first dose, not completely remove the policy. We need to work toward a safer New York City, not one in which we are constantly applying and lifting policies. We should be moving in a straight line forward. Adams shouldn’t play with his power and lift mandates just to see “Kyrie on the court.” The health of New York City residents is far more important than an unvaccinated athlete playing in a basketball game. 

I am excited for a city with faces that exist below the nose, to see smiles and laughs — not N95s. I am excited for NYU to potentially remove the mask mandate, excited to see what my classmates look like for the first time and watch my professors as they speak. I want this reemergence of a safe New York City to be permanent — so, Eric Adams, take away the mask mandates but keep requiring the vaccine.

Views expressed in the Opinion section do not necessarily reflect those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

Contact Alexandra Cohen at [email protected]