It’s been nearly 11 months since the end of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Key To NYC” vaccine mandate and public-school masking requirements. And President Joe Biden recently announced an end to the pandemic-related state of emergency on May 11. Yet many private businesses, cultural institutions, and schools continue to cling to COVID-era restrictions.
The remnants of pandemic policies are hodgepodge and nonsensical, ranging from vaccine and mask mandates to testing and isolation. They do little to promote safety, but much to continue disruption.
Even though it is now widely accepted that vaccines don’t prevent transmission, some mandates persist. New York state has a teacher shortage, yet the city has fired nearly 2,000 unjabbed teachers and staff, thanks to the city’s vaccine mandate. It only today ended the mandate for city workers – but has no plans to rehire those fired.
Children and adolescents have suffered from unprecedented levels of depression and anxiety during the pandemic, yet unvaccinated parents are still banned from city schools, performances and games. Parents miss out on full participation in school experiences.
Some public schools enforce their own rogue restrictions because . . . science! Special Music School, a public specialized K-8 school, limits capacity at student recitals to only one parent per child, even while there are no restrictions in the same concert venue during non-school concerts.
Parent-teacher conferences remain virtual through the end of 2022-23 school year. Presumably this is due to the requirement that parents be vaccinated to enter school buildings, potentially creating inequity for unjabbed parents. In December, after two years, the Department of Education finally shut down its Situation Room, which informed school communities about positive cases. Yet related school emails still arrive in parents’ inboxes, along with rapid tests sent home by schools.
On the college front, SUNY, which lets individual campuses adopt their own restrictions, requires young, healthy students to be fully vaccinated — but only “strongly recommends” jabs to faculty and staff, who are older and more at risk (but have a union). NYU requires students to be both vaccinated and boosted.
Some cultural institutions, including museums and theaters, many of which receive taxpayer funding, also continue to enforce their own set of made-up mandates. NYU Skirball Theater requires audience members, including children, to be both vaccinated and boosted. Columbia’s Lenfest Center for the Arts requires proof of vaccination.
The Joyce Theater requires masks, as does City Center, though only on Tuesday evenings and during Sunday matinees, not at other times. Alvin Ailey requires them for all dance classes, and still practices social distancing.
Programs designed for children seem to be extra restrictive, especially dance schools, which are popular with young girls. The Upper West Side’s Steps on Broadway forces visitors and participants six months and up to be vaccinated, no medical exemptions permitted. Though masks are theoretically optional, teachers may request them “in some classes.”
NYC Ballet requires all dancers to mask during class and rehearsals and musicians (with the exception of horn players) to mask during performances.
Kid-focused museums, including MoMath, still maintain their mask mandates under the guise of “protecting the public.” The Whitney has largely made masks optional, except for family days, when everyone 2 and over must mask.
NYC Transit Museum is still offering virtual programs to autistic children, while claiming to “support peer-to-peer interaction.” Older kids who have the privilege of going onsite at NYCTM must still mask. The Children’s Museum of the Arts has permanently closed its Charlton Street Space and is still doing virtual programs.
Broadway dropped its audience mask mandate July 1, 2022, yet staff continue to be masked.
Saddest of all, masks are still required at nursing homes, so the elderly, in their golden years, continue to be deprived of facial cues and the comfort of smiles, whether they like it or not.
This means countless older adults with hearing loss, dementia and other age-related limitations have been forced to live in a faceless, isolated, masked world for nearly three years now; there’s no reason whatsoever it should be that long, yet they have little power to effect change.
As New Yorkers fed up with the never-ending COVID restrictions know well, this is not an all-inclusive list. There are many other remnants — from testing trucks on every corner, to endless rapid tests sent home from school, to mask requests from teachers.
And the list goes on. Though the pandemic is over, the restrictions clearly are not.
On Monday, Biden said we needed an “orderly transition” out of the public-health emergency. We New Yorkers also need an urgent return to normal.
A version of this article appeared in the New York Post