Now that all school-aged children are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, the next question is when can they take off their masks in school?
New York City Mayor-Elect Eric Adams says he wants kids unmasked as soon as possible, potentially even this school year.
Gov. Kathy Hochul, on the other hand, was a bit more reluctant to set a hard date.
“The number one question I seem to get these days from the press and parents is 'when can we stop having the kids wear masks in schools?' I want them to stop wearing masks in schools,” Gov. Hochul said during a press conference Tuesday. “The key to doing that is getting them vaccinated.”
Vaccine eligibility opened up to 5-to-11-year-olds about a week ago and 12-to-17-year-olds have been eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine since around May.
Denis Nash, a professor of epidemiology at the CUNY School of Public Health, said while it might be too soon to take off masks in schools right now, it is a good goal to work toward.
"I think it's really important to think about and envision a time that we will have to get to where masks are not universally worn at all times in schools,” Nash explained. “And the vaccine is the key strategy for us to get there.”
Nash said that allowing students to attend school without masks will likely rely on a number of factors, such as the rate of transmission and the number of people vaccinated within a community.
“I don't disagree that no masks are better than masks when it comes to socialization and how kids should be in school,” Nash said. “But they're also pretty acceptable in terms of public health intervention. I like to think of masks as the new hoodie. I hope that we can continue to rely on them going forward for COVID, the flu and for other respiratory infections.”
Gov. Hochul said she is holding off on any sort of vaccine mandate for students at this time, but hasn’t ruled it out.
Nash says while there is certainly precedent — pointing to the mandate requiring students receive the measles vaccine in order to attend public school — it is possible that strongly recommending the vaccine could also provide a needed boost to the number of students immunized.
“I think all these options have to be on the table,” Nash said. “We don't know what direction the pandemic will go in.”
Gov. Hochul announced Tuesday a new initiative to encourage 5-to-11 year olds to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Fifty children who receive the vaccine will be chosen in a random drawing to receive a full ride to any SUNY or CUNY school.