States Start Lifting Mask Mandates

states lifting mask mandates covid 19
States easing mask mandate rules include Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia.

A growing number of states — most of them with Democratic leaders — have started pulling back rules for masks in schools and some public places as COVID-19 infection numbers decline. What do you need to know for the safety of yourself and your kids?

The latest data analysis from Newsweek showed that new reported infections in the majority of states have dropped by 60 percent or more since last month. On Monday, numbers released by the California Department of Public Health showed a plunge in the state of almost 65 percent from about three weeks before.

This significant drop in infections prompted New Jersey governor Phil Murphy to lift the statewide mask requirement in schools starting March 7, calling the shift a major move “back to normalcy for our kids.”

“Masking continues to be an important tool to prevent the spread of COVID,” he added. Individual school districts in the state will still be able to make their own decisions if they feel a mask policy is necessary.

Other states that have eased restrictions include:

  • California The state will get rid of its mandate requiring vaccinated residents to wear masks in indoor public places starting March 7. Unvaccinated residents, however, will still have to wear masks indoors, and everyone must continue to wear face coverings in nursing homes and aboard public transport. A plan for students and masking is still to be announced, according to KTVU.
  • New York The state will end mask mandates for most indoor public areas as of February 10, but schools must maintain masking for now.
  • Connecticut The state plans to stop its mask mandate on February 28.
  • Illinois The state will get rid of its mask mandate at the end of the month.
  • Delaware Governor John Carney lifted Delaware’s universal indoor mask mandate effective at 8 a.m. on Friday, February 11, and the school mask requirement will end on March 31.
  • Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee this week revealed the state’s plan to lift the school mask mandate and allow masking decisions to be made on a local level.
  • Massachusetts The state will let its mask mandate expire on February 28.
  • Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak announced Thursday that, effective immediately, masks would no longer be required in most public places, including casinos, as reported by KTNV.
  • Pennsylvania Students in grades K–12 no longer have to wear masks (a policy that began January 17).
  • Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin announced that parents could make their own decision about masks for their kids as of January 15.

“As we get out of the full-blown pandemic phase of COVID-19, which we are certainly heading out of, these decisions will increasingly be made on a local level rather than centrally decided or mandated. There will also be more people making their own decisions on how they want to deal with the virus,” said Anthony Fauci, MD, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as People reported on February 9.

Although state leaders have increasingly moved to eliminate masking rules, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been urging against measures like this at this time.

In an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, the CDC’s director, Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, said that “now is not the moment” to drop mask mandates in schools and other public places as COVID-19 infections — while declining — are still high across the country.

“Right now our CDC guidance has not changed … We continue to endorse universal masking in schools,” said Dr. Walensky.

Jennifer Horney, PhD, a professor of epidemiology and a core faculty member at the disaster research center at the University of Delaware in Newark says that although governors and other elected executives are under tremendous pressure to begin the transition back toward a new normal, we must still keep public health in mind as we relax masking rules.

“In many cases, indoor mask mandates still do apply to those who are unvaccinated,” advises Dr. Horney. “You need to be up-to-date [with vaccinations], which includes a booster if eligible, in order to take your mask off indoors.”

For parents, the conflicting messaging from states and the federal government may be confusing, says Adrianna Bravo, MD, a pediatrician and a senior medical adviser for Inspire Diagnostics.

“Balancing the benefits and risks of mask wearing is the challenge right now,” says Dr. Bravo. “On one hand, mask wearing has been found to be both protective to the mask wearer and to others. Yet, with COVID rates falling in many places, how much do we need to continue to disrupt lives in order to mitigate that declining risk?”

Bravo advises that parents have to assess the risk presented by their particular situation.

“Unmasking is not necessarily an on-off switch, but rather best considered as a two-way dimmer switch that can be adjusted according to the risk presented,” she said. “Each individual, school, or business may choose to move their dimmer switches at different paces, at different times, in different amounts. The sweet spot is reached when COVID risk is low, negative social emotional impact is mitigated, and all constituents are comfortable and feeling safe.”

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