Judge Strikes Down NYC's Toddler Mask Mandate, City Plans Appeal as COVID Rises Again

A Staten Island judge struck down the city's mask order for kids ages 2-4; Mayor Eric Adams had said he planned to lift the order Monday

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A Staten Island judge on Friday struck down New York City's mask mandate for toddlers, calling it "arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable" and issuing a permanent injunction against it.

Mayor Eric Adams said the city would appeal and seek a stay of Judge Ralph Porzio's ruling. Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said the city was not recommending that young kids ages 2-4 stop masking yet, and he sounded a broader note of caution too.

"Cases are definitively rising and it's gotten our attention," he said. "They will continue to rise over the next few weeks, and it's likely that over these weeks, we will move into a different level of overall risk across the city."

Vasan said he was "recommending" people wear masks in public, indoor settings.

Things have changed since the mayor first announced a plan on March 22 to make masks optional as of April 4 for the youngest kids. Positivity rates and case totals are rising, and transmission rates in the city are up 19% over that time.

The more critical metrics -- hospitalizations and deaths -- remain on the decline, and officials have said they don't expect a new severe surge linked to BA.2. That said, the city is still erring on the side of caution.

Right now, the community COVID alert level citywide is low, under the new benchmark system Adams unveiled earlier this month. It doesn't get any lower. So far, the risk level hasn't changed since the school mandate lifted on March 7, which the mayor called a "great sign" as he declared it time to "peel back another layer."

Kids younger than 2 have not been subject to mask mandates since the pandemic started.

It's been called "stealth omicron" or "deltacron." A new subvariant of the COVID-19 virus is making headlines, so we talked to NBC News medical correspondent Dr. John Torres to learn more. He explained how the variant "plagiarizes" from the Omicron and Delta variants that previously caused surges, and why this may not cause a new surge here in the U.S.

While BA.2 does appear to be "inherently more transmissible" than the original omicron strain, the World Health Organization has said, experts say they don't expect it to trigger a major resurgence given high vaccination rates and so many people having been recently infected with the first omicron strain.

BA.2 is now the dominant COVID strain in both New York and America. Earlier this week, the feds authorized a second booster dose for millions more Americans to help stem the potential tide of new infections among the most vulnerable.

Which face mask protects best against COVID-19? Chris Glorioso heads to a factory to get the answer.
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