Several States Start Rolling Back Mask Mandates as Infections Fall

Several States Start Rolling Back Mask Mandates as Infections Fall

Several Democratic governors announced plans on Monday to roll back mask mandates for schools and indoor public spaces, citing a drop in recent coronavirus infections and highlighting how even local officials who installed sweeping safety measures early in the pandemic are now preparing to live permanently with the virus.

“This is not a declaration of victory as much as an acknowledgment that we can responsibly live with this thing,” Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey, a Democrat who imposed some of the nation’s toughest pandemic-related mandates, said on Monday. Under Mr. Murphy’s new policy, which will take effect the second week of March, students and school employees in the state will no longer be required to wear masks.

Statewide mask mandates for schools and indoor settings had been imposed in only a handful of states, according to a New York Times database. Monday’s announcements represented one of the biggest rollbacks of statewide health protocols since the pandemic began.

Shortly after the New Jersey announcement, the Democratic leaders in California, Connecticut, Delaware and Oregon separately said they would also end some mask mandates.

Connecticut will permit students and staff members to stop wearing masks in schools by no later than Feb. 28; Delaware will end mask mandates in schools by March 31. Oregon and California announced the end to mask mandates at indoor public spaces.

New York State, which had been the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States, has resisted the move, for now, on schools. “I’m gathering data,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said on Monday, adding that “we are trending in a very, very good direction.” But she said that she would make an announcement on Wednesday regarding the future of a statewide rule requiring masks or proof of full vaccination at all indoor public spaces, which is set to expire on Thursday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California wrote on Twitter on Monday that cases had dropped, hospitalizations had stabilized, and the state’s indoor mask mandate for vaccinated people would expire on Feb. 15.

Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon on Twitter said on Monday that the state would “lift mask requirements no later than March 31.”

In Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont said, “Now is the time for us to say, the statewide mask mandate is no longer at our level.” He added, “Each and every mayor, each and every superintendent can make that call themselves.”

Last month, Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania announced that he would let schools end or modify their mask mandates because it is “time to prepare for a transition back to a more normal setting,” reported.

The moves to eliminate mask mandates in these states come as the number of reported cases has dipped to its lowest level since the highly contagious Omicron variant touched off a wave of cases in December.

As of Monday, the daily average of new cases in the United States dropped to around 250,000, the lowest that figure has been since late December, according to a Times database.

Though the daily average of hospitalizations has steadily declined since its peak on Jan. 20, the daily average of deaths linked to the virus has hovered at more than 2,500 since Jan. 27.

The moves on Monday also highlight the patchwork nature of health protocols that have yet to be synchronized from county to county within many states, let alone between states, since the pandemic began in early 2020.

New York, New Mexico and Illinois have statewide mask mandates for schools and many indoor settings, according to the Times’s mandate tracking site.

States like Idaho, Louisiana and Mississippi recommend indoor mask-wearing, and Republican-led states like Texas and Florida have banned mandates. Whether to mandate mask-wearing in schools is up to local officials in most states.

The mask rollbacks announced on Monday appear to undercut messaging coming from federal officials.

Asked on Monday about the lifting of mask mandates in New Jersey, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, pointed to federal guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that says masks can reduce transmission of coronavirus.

“Our responsibility as the federal government is to rely on the data and the science that is being analyzed by our public health experts,” Ms. Psaki said at a news conference. “And we’ll continue to rely on that for what recommendations we’re making.” Ms. Psaki also said it has always been up to local school districts to determine how they put the federal advice into practice.

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