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NEW YORK (PIX11) — Children between the ages of 2 and 4 in New York City’s public schools and day care centers will need to keep wearing masks at least through the end of the month, Mayor Eric Adams announced Tuesday.

The mask mandate, which has been the focus of protests by parents, will be lifted on April 4 as long as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations do not increase in the coming weeks, the mayor said.

“I have always said that the science will guide us out of the pandemic, and because we have followed the data, we are winning the fight against COVID-19. New York City is currently in a low-risk environment,” Adams said in a statement. 

The mayor said the decision to wait until April will allow for “sufficient time” to evaluate COVID data and “make sound decisions for our youngest New Yorkers.”

“We must get this right for the health of our kids, and I refuse to jeopardize their safety by rushing a decision,” he said. “Our schools have been among the safest places for our children since the beginning of the pandemic, and we will only remove this requirement if the science says that it is safe to do so. I’ve said it before: I’m with New York City parents and New Yorkers can trust this administration to continue to make the proper public health decisions to keep our kids safe.”

Public school students ages 5 and older have been allowed to go maskless in classrooms for just over two weeks. Adams said the percent positivity in schools since then has remained low, although he did not provide specific numbers.

The cautious decision came as health experts eye a new sub-variant of omicron that has quickly spread across New York City. The variant known as BA.2, or “stealth variant,” accounted for 42% of the active COVID cases statewide on Monday, New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said.

BA.2 appears to be 30% more infectious than the original omicron strain, which quickly spiked cases in the tri-state area beginning in early December and led to a month-long span of more than 100 deaths per day in New York. However, Bassett said experts do not expect a “large surge” in cases related to the stealth variant. She indicated that vaccinations and anti-viral treatments appear to work effectively against BA.2.

Children under the age of 5 are not yet eligible for the COVID vaccines. However, some parents with toddlers say they still want the city to end the mask mandate.

A group of parents rallied over the weekend, calling on the Adams administration to lift the requirement. One child said it wasn’t fair that she could go to school without a mask, but her sister has to wear one. Parents cited a variety of reasons for wanting the mandate to end.

PIX11’s Henry Rosoff and Jennifer Bisram contributed to this report.