Mayor Eric Adams vowed Wednesday not to bring back an indoor mask mandate for New York City, a day after his Health Department determined the five boroughs have reached a “high” level of transmission risk.
Adams explained he opted not to impose a face-covering requirement despite the color-coded COVID-19 alert system he adopted in March dictating the city should now “require face masks in all public indoor settings” because deaths and hospitalizations remain low and residents have increased access to at-home testing kits and medication for the virus.
“I am proud of what we are doing, how we are not allowing COVID to outsmart us. We’re staying prepared and not panicking,” he told reporters Wednesday morning during a Q&A session at City Hall. “When I look at the hospitalizations and deaths, the numbers are stable.”
“We have all of these tools that we did not have when we first set the color-coded system,” he added, referencing the city’s distribution of free coronavirus antiviral pills that began in January and at-home test kits that City Hall began giving away in December.
The city in recent months has seen an uptick in cases amid the spread of the highly contagious Omicron subvariant BA.2 — soaring from a seven-day average 1% positivity rate at the beginning of March to over 8.8% as of Sunday, according to city health department figures.
But while cases increased, COVID deaths and hospitalizations remained relatively low. The city reported a seven-day average of 50 new COVID-19 hospitalizations on April 15 and 56 on May 15, as coronavirus deaths continued to hover at about five per day during that time period.
Adams predicted Wednesday that “variants are going to continue to come” as part of a “new norm settling” in the United States and Big Apple, arguing the city can’t enact new regulations with each wave.
“If every variant that comes we move into shutdown thoughts, we move into panicking, we’re not going to function as a city,” he said. “I feel … that we are being extremely strategic and we are fighting COVID with, not only the tools that we didn’t have before, but we’re also fighting COVID using the intelligence we need to win in a COVID environment.”
City data shows that 78.3% of New Yorkers of all ages are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and that 87.9% of adults have received at least two shots — inoculation rates that have largely remained unchanged in recent weeks. Just over 87% of city residents of all ages have received at least one shot, while just 38% have received a booster shot, according to city health department statistics.
As deaths and hospitalizations have recently trended downward, city and state elected officials have removed several coronavirus-related regulations— including the indoor venue vaccine passport program, mask mandates for students old enough to get their shots, and the state’s office mask mandate.
But City Hall’s municipal worker and private-sector employee vaccine mandates remain in place, as does the face-covering requirement for children under 5 years old while in daycare facilities and public schools.
Earlier in May, the city Health Department axed the outdoor mask requirement for young children and teachers while on public school property like playgrounds.
Also Wednesday, after returning from a trip to Albany, where he again made the case to state lawmakers to grant him mayoral control of Big Apple public schools, Adams put a positive spin on his visit, while confirming legislative leaders have not made a decision on his key education ask.
“[It was] a good meeting, great meeting. I did not realize how much I missed those people out there. I enjoy being with my [former] colleagues, we tease each other, joke, laugh,” said the former state senator, who represented parts of central Brooklyn from 2007 to 2013.
“Now as I shared with them, we sold, we displayed our product, what we want to do. It is now your role to determine if we’re going to have the continuation of mayoral accountability,” the mayor added. “That’s their job. I did my job going up and having real conversations. And now it’s up to them.”
“I need mayoral accountability to continue the work that we have done in the last few months. And I think there’s an appetite to give us the mayoral accountability that we need,” the mayor went on. “And they will make a determination, and no matter what determination they make, I’m going to operate and do what’s best for the city.”
Asked by The Post if there was consensus on for how long mayoral control will be extended, Adams replied, “that’s not how they flow in Albany.”
“They hear what you have to say, they go back to their caucuses, and they have the conversation, and I respect the process, because I was part of the process,” he continued.
Earlier in the year, Hochul made a request for a four-year extension of mayoral control of New York City public schools, after Adams asked for three years of what he calls “mayoral accountability.” But Empire State lawmakers refused to include it in the state’s fiscal year 2023 spending plan finalized in April.
Asked about extension of a version of 421-a — a property tax exemption that incentivizes construction of income-restricted apartments that is set to expire June 15 — the mayor responded that he and legislative leaders engaged in “conversations” on the matter while offering little detail.
“We did have conversations about that. And hopefully they can come to an understanding that we need to — even if we can extend it, I’m hoping that we can accomplish and come to an agreement,” he said. “I think 421-a, or a version of it, is going to play a vital role … in dealing with the housing crisis that we’re facing.”
Hochul in January released 485-w, a tweaked version of the program, in her executive budget proposal. The new iteration of the tax break would require slightly deeper levels of affordability projects as well as wage requirements, but that measure was not included in the state budget finalized last month.