NYC sheds vaccination mandate, school masks precautions

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City shed major COVID-19 precautions on Monday as masks became optional in city schools and restaurants and cultural attractions could stop asking patrons for proof of vaccination.

“Let’s get out. Let’s get back into our city. Let’s enjoy our city,” Mayor Eric Adams said after visiting several restaurants in Manhattan’s East Village. The Democratic mayor urged New Yorkers to “enjoy the city and spend money, because our economy depends on the spending of money.”

Adams announced Friday that indoor venues including restaurants, theaters and gyms would no longer be required to check the vaccination status of patrons as of Monday. Businesses can require vaccination if they choose to, however, and proof of vaccination will be required at Broadway theaters at least until April 30.

The vaccination mandate for indoor gathering spots was imposed last year by Adams’ predecessor, Bill de Blasio, in a bid to increase vaccination rates by barring the unvaccinated from many activities. The city is dropping the mandate as other U.S. cities including Los Angeles and Chicago are also easing some virus rules.

Barbara Sibley, the owner of La Palapa, one of the restaurants Adams visited, said she and her staff were “very excited that we’re at this moment where we can relax a little bit.”

“It’s springtime. It’s a warm day in New York. It’s a great moment to sort of think about where we are and really, you know, have some joy,” she added.

Sibley said most of her restaurant’s patrons cooperated with the vaccination requirement that has now ended.

“Really by and large our guests have been so great about it, so easy and compliant, and it’s been really great to do our part in getting folks in the city to get vaccinated,” she said.

Most of the city’s public school students were allowed in class without masks on Monday for the first time since March 2020. Masks are still required for children under 5, who are not eligible to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

New York and other cities are dropping virus rules as the most recent surge in infections fueled by the omicron variant wanes.

More than 4,000 people in New York City died of COVID-19 in January and February, making those two months the deadliest of the pandemic since the spring of 2020. New infections have plunged, though, in recent weeks. The city is now averaging a little more than 700 new cases per day of the virus, the lowest infection rate since late July.