Call for clear communication, focused effort to address health and vaccination disparities

New York, NY – New York City Council Speaker Adrienne E. Adams and Council Members released the following statements in response to the Mayor’s announcement to change indoor mask mandates in schools and vaccine requirements for certain indoor settings.

“As New York City’s COVID-19 case rate and hospitalizations continue to decline, we have reason to be optimistic about our city’s future because of the work New Yorkers did to protect each other and public health,” said City Council Speaker Adrienne E. Adams. “More than three-quarters of all New Yorkers are fully vaccinated, which has proven to save lives and prevent the most severe impacts of the virus. Yet, serious disparities still exist.  As the Mayor removes the indoor mask mandate for New York City’s public schools and lifts the ‘Key to NYC’ requirements for certain indoor settings, we urge the City to focus on clear and well-coordinated communication, an intensive effort to attack severe public health disparities across our schools and neighborhoods, and a commitment to allowing public health experts to guide policy shifts based on the conditions. The city must clearly communicate to all stakeholders, including parents, students, and educators about the details of these changes to avoid any confusion about the mask policies in our schools, especially given the various different messages being delivered at the federal and state levels. This communication must reach all New Yorkers, including immigrant households that do not speak English as their primary language, requiring a protracted multi-channel and multi-language effort.

“In order to address continued health inequities, the City should enact a major effort to address the stark disparities in vaccination rates across school districts and communities,” continued Speaker Adams. “Many communities of color have lower vaccination rates, especially amongst students in their neighborhood schools. During the recent Omicron surge, Black New Yorkers were twice as likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 as white New Yorkers, in part believed to be due to lower vaccination rates and certainly a legacy of health inequities. In areas that continue to be disproportionately impacted and under-vaccinated, we must pursue a targeted and persistent effort to vaccinate New Yorkers, maintain a high capacity for testing, and invest in public health and wellness. As has been the case throughout the pandemic, it will be critical for the City to remain flexible and willing to allow the status of COVID’s impact on our city to dictate our policies. We must not be afraid to enact more stringent policies if the public health environment requires it, just as we cannot fear loosening policies as conditions improve.”

Council Member Lynn Schulman, Chair of the Committee on Health, said: “New York is experiencing the lowest COVID numbers since the start of the pandemic and it seems a good time to begin reducing restrictions, especially for restaurants and other entertainment venues which have suffered greatly.  With that, it is important to always follow the science, and explore creating guidelines for future healthcare measures based on case levels and other appropriate criteria.”

Council Member Francisco Moya, Chair of the Subcommittee on COVID-19 Recovery and Resiliency, said: “COVID-19 has been ever-evolving forcing us to constantly adjust but we are resilient. Two years ago we did not have the tools and lessons learned to protect ourselves and others. As we move forward, we need to continue to monitor the trends and new variants to ensure we can pivot as needed to protect our most vulnerable communities, our families, our local businesses, and the recovery of our city.”

Council Member Rita Joseph, Chair of the Committee on Education, said: “Public health measures are in place to limit the spread of this highly infectious virus we have spent two years fighting. As I’ve been saying since the beginning of the pandemic, we must rely solely on COVID data in order to make any public decision that will affect New Yorkers. Currently, only 52% of New York City’s public school children are vaccinated. This figure is even lower in communities of color and working-class school districts. We must continue and strengthen our vaccination efforts in these communities. At PS 6 in Brooklyn, the school where I taught for 22 years, less than a quarter of students are fully vaccinated. That simply is not good enough. Additionally, we need to particularly mindful of intergenerational households where a student getting COVID could be particularly dangerous to an elderly grandparent. The city needs to continue following the science so that we make public policy decisions that work in the best interest of New York families.”