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Governors and other officials in at least five blue states took steps this week to dial back the requirements.
As the omicron variant of Covid-19 fades, at least five states with Democratic governors this week moved to roll back mask mandates.
It’s a sign that even states that took a more cautious approach to battling the virus are looking to relax pandemic-era public health restrictions as Americans learn to live long-term with Covid.
Below is a roundup of some of the states that have taken action so far.
Governor Phil Murphy on Monday announced that the state's universal school mask mandates will be lifted, effective March 7.
New Jersey's Department of Health said that school districts and child care facilities can continue to implement universal masking policies after the mandate is lifted. The department also said that schools that don’t require universal masking should update their health safety guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid, and added that this could still include mask requirements under certain circumstances.
“Given the continued drop in new cases and hospitalizations, projections indicating a continued decline over the coming weeks, and the continued growth of vaccinations for our school-aged population, we believe that we can responsibly end the universal mask mandate" Murphy said in a statement.
The statewide mask mandate for schools and child care settings will be lifted effective March 7th.— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) February 7, 2022
We can responsibly take the step given the continuing drop in new cases and hospitalizations from Omicron, and the continued growth in vaccinations. pic.twitter.com/89CM3Fq4fz
Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday he is endorsing a plan developed in partnership with Connecticut Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Manisha Juthani and state Department of Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker to eliminate a statewide requirement that masks be worn in all schools and childcare centers.
The new policy will go into effect Feb. 28. After that, decisions to require masks will be made at the local level.
“Connecticut is seeing a dramatic decline in cases caused by the omicron variant, and children over the age of 5 could get vaccinated for more than three months now,” Lamont said during an online news briefing. “With this in mind, I think we are in a good position to phase out the requirement that masks be worn in all schools statewide and shift the determination on whether to require this to the local level.”
We’ve made considerable progress against Covid. Infection rates have dramatically dropped and folks across CT have many tools on hand to keep themselves safe. That’s why, as of February 28th, school and childcare mask mandates will be decided by school districts, not the state. pic.twitter.com/JU681AO9kT— Governor Ned Lamont (@GovNedLamont) February 7, 2022
In Oregon, state officials said Monday that general indoor mask requirements would be lifted no later than March 31, but that masking rules would remain in effect until then due to high numbers of Covid-related hospitalizations.
“We should see Covid-19 hospitalizations drop by the end of March because so many Oregonians are wearing masks and taking other steps to protect themselves and each other, such as getting a booster shot or vaccinating their children. At that point, it will be safer to lift mask requirements,” said Dean Sidelinger, health officer and state epidemiologist.
Oregonians have stepped up during the Omicron surge — wearing masks, getting vaccinated and boosted, and keeping each other safe. Because of your actions, Oregon will lift mask requirements no later than March 31. Thank you. https://t.co/QGJpZyVi5t— Governor Kate Brown (@OregonGovBrown) February 8, 2022
California also announced plans to let certain Covid safety measures expire, including masking requirements on public transit and in other settings deemed to be higher risk for spreading the virus. The mask rules will lapse on Feb. 15, officials said.
Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations have been falling statewide since early January, the state's Department of Public Health noted.
"With things moving in the right direction, we are making responsible modifications to Covid-19 prevention measures, while also continuing to develop a longer-term action plan," said Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, director of the department and the state’s public health officer.
On February 15, California’s statewide indoor mask requirement will expire.⁰— Office of the Governor of California (@CAgovernor) February 7, 2022
Unvaccinated people must still wear masks in indoor public settings.
Cases have decreased 65% since the Omicron peak. Stay vigilant, get vaccinated, get boosted.
Delaware Gov. John Carney announced Monday that a universal indoor masking mandate will end Feb. 11.
Carney also temporarily extended the mask requirement in public and private K-12 schools and child care facilities, but said this mandate will expire March 31. Carney said this timeline was meant to give parents time to get their children vaccinated before the expiration of the statewide requirement.
It will also give school and health officials time to consider local mask requirements and to work on other health policies, like quarantine and contact tracing guidance.
“We’re in a much better place than we were several weeks ago in the middle of the omicron surge of Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations,” Carney said in a statement. “We have the tools to keep ourselves and each other safe. Get vaccinated. Get your booster."
We are lifting DE's statewide mask mandate for indoor public settings at 8am on Friday, Feb 11.— Governor John Carney (@JohnCarneyDE) February 7, 2022
The mask requirement in K-12 public & private schools and child care facilities expires at 11:59pm on Thursday, March 31.
We’re in a much better place than we were several weeks ago. pic.twitter.com/rofUXN2hzW
The Bigger Picture
Last week, a bipartisan group of governors visiting Washington for a National Governors Association conference, met with President Biden at the White House. During the meeting with Biden, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who is NGA’s current president, told Biden that states are looking to the federal government for guidance on “the right standards to end this pandemic and move to more endemic status.” He added: “We want to go from today, to more normal."
Democrats in contrast have been more apt to turn to masking as part of their public health strategy to control the virus. The mask requirement rollbacks by the Democratic governors come as the pandemic enters its third year, and as masking and other Covid restrictions remain political flash points ahead of this year’s elections.
Andre Claudio is an assistant editor at Route Fifty.