Public schools in New York City will no longer require students and staff members to wear masks outside while on school grounds starting on Monday, David C. Banks, the city’s schools chancellor, announced on Friday.
While schools across New York State will continue to require students, staff members and visitors to wear face coverings at school while indoors, the decision to lift the city’s outdoor mandate is a significant step in New York’s path to loosening pandemic restrictions, and could pave the way for the removal of the indoor school mask mandate.
“Throughout the pandemic, our schools have remained some of the safest spaces for our students and staff, thanks to our gold standard health and safety protocol,” Mr. Banks said in a statement. “I am so pleased that we are able to make this exciting announcement and safely allow students and staff to remove their masks when outdoors at N.Y.C. public schools.”
The decision comes as city Department of Education officials said that coronavirus cases among students and staff members had decreased by 99 percent since early January, and that the in-school test positivity rate was under one percent.
Other pandemic safety protocols will remain in place, including increased ventilation, social distancing, daily health screeners and the distribution of test kits, officials said.
Mayor Eric Adams, in a series of morning television and radio appearances, described the decision to roll back the outdoor mask mandate as part of an effort to gradually loosen restrictions.
“We are going to continue to follow the science,” Mr. Adams said on WCBS 880. “New Yorkers have done an amazing job in following the rules, so we are going to pull back on children wearing masks outdoors.”
Mr. Adams said that he was consulting with experts about lifting restrictions in a way that would not lead to another shutdown.
“I said I want to pull back on all of these mandates, actually, but we want to do it in a very smart way,” he said. “I’m looking at the numbers daily with my team each morning, and when the doctors give me the thumbs up I’m going to make those announcements.”
Gov. Kathy Hochul has said that state officials would re-examine case numbers in schools after students returned from midwinter break next week before deciding whether or not to lift the statewide mask mandate for schools.
According to a poll released on Tuesday by the Siena College Research Institute, 58 percent of registered voters said they agreed with Governor Hochul’s plan to wait until after students returned to classrooms, while 30 percent said the mandate should have already been lifted, and 10 percent said they wanted to see it end after midwinter break.