Appeals Court Upholds NYC Toddler Mask Mandate

New York City saw its mask mandate for toddlers between ages two and four struck down by a trial court judge on Friday morning and then allowed to remain in place because of an emergency order from an appeals court that evening.

Staten Island Judge Ralph Porzio had earlier on Friday struck down the city’s mask mandate for toddlers in a lawsuit brought by parents claiming the rule was “arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable.” His order had granted a permanent injunction prohibiting the city from enforcing the mandate, declaring the rule to be “void and unenforceable.”

The appeals court order means that preschool and daycare masks will be back in place starting on Monday.

The lawsuit had been brought by parents last month, claiming the rule applying to children in day-care settings between ages two and four is unconstitutional.

Attorney and father Michael Chessa said the plaintiffs in the case are “obviously disappointed.” He said there is no reason the city needed to rush to an appeals court on Friday afternoon just to force little children to continue wearing masks. Chessa said at a protest on March 4 that the mandate is not only “anti-child, anti-science, and anti-parent,” but it is also unlawful.

The toddler mask mandate applies to around 95,000 young children in the city’s preschools as well as all children in private preschools and daycare facilities. The rule was first put in place by the city health department last November.

Mayor Adams insisted on keeping the toddler mandate in place, even as he removed mandates for older students. His stated reasoning was that toddlers were not yet approved to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. His statement did not include the fact that children under five have the lowest mortality rate from the virus of any age group by far.

NYC health commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said at a press conference on Friday that he is recommending that the city “wait a little bit longer” before making toddler masking optional.

Statewide masking requirements in New York were removed in February by Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul. Her ruling allows city or county officials in the state to continue mask mandates.

Research studies have shown that surgical-style masks provide “little to no protection” to young children from COVID-19 but are directly harmful to them, causing elevated carbon dioxide inhalation and negatively affecting cognitive and social development. One speech pathologist reported in 2021 that she saw a 364 percent increase in case referrals for speech-delayed children that year.