Also, public school children from kindergarten through 12th grade no longer will be required to wear masks on school grounds, city officials said today.
Mayor Eric Adams announced the changes, which take effect Monday, during a news conference in Times Square. He closed his remarks by saying the momentous decision is “clearly an Arnold Schwarzenegger moment — we’ll be back.”
The choice of location for the news conference was not accidental. The pullback has significant repercussions for movie theaters, Broadway, concert venues and sports arenas, where mask mandates and vaccine requirements have been in place for nearly a year.
Broadway officials said today, however, that masks will be required in those theaters through April.
Today’s NYC announcement covers indoor dining, gyms and fitness centers, and indoor entertainment and meeting spaces. Anyone visiting them no longer will be required to show proof of vaccination or wear masks.
New York City’s positivity rate is now just 1.8% — and in schools it is just 0.18% — Adams said, and high penetration of the vaccine give the city confidence that it can ease the requirements. As of Thursday, about 89% of New Yorkers have had at least one vaccine dose, with nearly 76% fully vaccinated.
The rollback of the requirements represents a major milestone during the pandemic, Adams said.
“Two years ago we were the epicenter, and two months ago we became the epicenter again with Omicron,” he said. “Two years of pain, of heartbreak, of uncertainty, of business loss, of schools closing — just conflict inside our households. It was a tough time, but I said from the time I was elected, we are not going to allow Covid to define us.”
Adams said theaters, restaurants and other businesses can use their discretion if they prefer to continue requiring patrons to show proof of vaccination. Legally, they are within their rights to insist on that despite the city’s stance, he added. Mask wearing still is recommended in large group settings but will no longer be required. He also said the city will continue to track infection trends and always could reinstate stricter requirements in the future.
New York City Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi said the city has now reached a “low” alert level in terms of Covid. While nearly 40,000 New Yorkers have died due to the virus, officials said vaccination efforts have helped avert 48,000 deaths.
Throughout the 45-minute news conference, on a brisk but sunny late-winter morning, Adams sought to emphasize the city’s re-emergence from a profoundly dark period. Along with public morale and safety, “we have to get our economy back on track,” the mayor said. “It’s time to open our city.”
New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin noted that Times Square takes up 0.1% of the city’s land mass but represents 15% of its economy. “As we talk about getting through Covid, we need to talk about what we’re doing to ensure that our small businesses are able to grow and move forward in a way that we feel helps our economy,” he said.
Despite the sense of turning the page on Covid, there remain some notable requirements for vaccines and mask-wearing in certain places. Private-sector employers in the city are still required to have their workers vaccinated. That means NBA star Kyrie Irving, who is unvaccinated and plays for the Brooklyn Nets, will continue to be sidelined during the team’s home games.
Adams was not asked about Irving, but he did field a question about the thousands of city workers who lost their jobs because they refused to get vaccinated. “We don’t know when another variant is coming,” he explained when asked why those workers couldn’t be rehired, even as tourists come to town and go about the city without vaccines or masks.
Benjamin noted that nursing homes, health care facilities, jails, homeless shelters, airports and transportation hubs are places where masks are still required.
Adams saluted his predecessor, Bill de Blasio, for controversial decisions he made throughout the pandemic. He said the city has managed through the worst of the crisis.
“We are all right, folks,” Adams said. “We’re doing all right. We’re doing the right things. People will go back out and enjoy this city. It’s going to take a while, I understand that.”
Asked by a reporter for the outlook on parades, like the annual Puerto Rican Day event in June, Adams said the plan is to restore them after two largely inactive years.
“We have become so boring as a city,” he said. “I want all our parades back, every one of them. It’s time for us to enjoy our city again. All of these ‘no, no, no’s’ — we’ve become a city of ‘no’s. I want to become a city of excitement. We’re going to look to reinstate every parade, every festival, every block party. People need to get outdoors and enjoy our city again.”