In the past week, California, Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, and Oregon all announced they were either repealing or refusing to renew many of their mask mandates, particularly mandates for schools. This comes as COVID cases plummet across the US in the wake of January’s Omicron wave.
Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont declared that, no later than the end of February, Connecticut would no longer require faculty and students to mask up in school. According to Lamont, “now is the time for us to say, the statewide mask mandate is no longer at our level. Each and every mayor, each and every superintendent can make that call themselves.” The timing of this decree is noteworthy, however, as, barring action for the Connecticut legislature, the emergency powers granting the governor the ability to impose school mask mandates would expire on February 15th.
On January 21st, Governor Lamont asked the Legislature to extend his emergency powers, including the ability to mandate masks in schools, for the seventh time. Republicans in the Connecticut legislature, however, along with many of their Democratic colleagues, publicly balked at this proposed extension. While he is now telegraphing his intention to no longer mandate masks in schools, Governor Lamont is still asking that the state of emergency be extended in order to render the state eligible for more federal funding. Republicans in the Connecticut Senate are skeptical of his claims and are taking their time extending the state of emergency. The State Senate Republican leader stated that “This is the seventh request for an extension, and I think the people are tired. They want their government back. They want their voice back. The governor sees that and feels that. We’ve had 22 months to get this right. It’s not the emergency it initially was.’’ It is unclear what, exactly, the legal status of the Governor’s emergency decrees are, or what would happen if the legislature refused to exit the state of emergency.
Delaware relaxed its indoor mask mandate on February 11th, and its mandate for K through 12 schools and childcare facilities will expire on March 31st. The Governor of Delaware, John Carney, tweeted “COVID is still circulating in our communities. The virus still poses a risk of serious illness, particularly among those who are not up to date on their vaccinations, but we have the tools to keep ourselves and each other safe. Get vaccinated. Get your booster. That’s especially important for children, where we continue to see low rates of vaccination. For all the parents out there – the best way to keep your child in school learning, and to prevent them from getting sick, is to get them vaccinated. It’s that simple.”
Oregon has committed to repealing its mask mandate, including its mask mandate for schools, by March 31st at the latest, though Oregon’s public health authority may lift it earlier if hospitalizations fall quickly enough. According to Oregon health officials, “The evidence from Oregon and around the country is clear: masks save lives by slowing the spread of COVID-19. 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 rules.”
California saw a smaller relaxation, with the government no longer requiring vaccinated individuals to mask up, although masks will still be required “in higher-risk areas like public transit and nursing homes and other congregate living facilities.” Schools were also unaffected by the mandate, to the consternation of many California parents. State public health official Dr. Tomás J. Aragón stated that “Omicron has loosened its hold on California, vaccines for children under 5 are around the corner, and access to COVID-19 treatments is improving. 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 for the state.” Further, most testing requirements for unvaccinated individuals were suspended immediately.
The people of New Jersey, as of the second week of March, will no longer have a statewide mask mandate in schools. Districts will still be able to keep their own mandates if they so choose, but it will not be required by the state. Governor Philip Murphy stated that “This is not a declaration of victory as much as an acknowledgment that we can responsibly live with this thing,”
In addition to the above five, New York seems poised to lift its mandate as well. New York Governor Kathy Hochul, who came to power after Andrew Cuomo resigned in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct and of lying to federal officials regarding New York’s COVID deaths, said “The more children we have vaccinated, the safer they’ll be when they go to school. We’re just not there yet.”
If these actions go through as planned, only six states, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, and Washington, and, of course, the District of Columbia, will still have widespread indoor mask mandates.