As several Democratic states take steps to withdraw mask mandates and growing impatience across the United States to relax measures and move toward pre-pandemic normalcy, the White House said Wednesday it is beginning to prepare for a less restrictive phase of the national response to the coronavirus pandemic. White House pandemic response coordinator Jeff Zients said they have begun consultations with state and local leaders and public health officials about “the steps we need to take to keep the country moving forward.” His comments come as several states have eased their restrictions.
Governors and local school officials have been pushing for weeks for clear guidelines to loosen or end restrictions, but federal officials have been slow to announce potential changes. That has led to a disparate series of local and state policies that differ greatly from place to place.
“We’re working on those guidelines,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday. “Although we have been encouraged by current trends, we are not ready yet.COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have dropped sharply since peaking this year due to the highly contagious omicron variant. The vast majority of Americans are now protected by booster doses.
The CDC’s guideline remains to wear masks indoors in places “of substantial or elevated transmission” of the virus, which as of Wednesday was nationwide except for 14 rural counties. State and local leaders, however, have announced plans to relax restrictions in the coming weeks as cases drop, citing the protections offered by vaccines and the increasing availability of home tests and therapies for those who get sick. Many of the restrictions were lifted earlier this year but were restored due to the wave of omicron infections.
This week, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Delaware announced plans to lift state mask requirements in schools. Massachusetts officials said Wednesday that the state will do the same starting Feb. 28. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that the state will end the mask mandate at most indoor sites, but will maintain the rule in schools.
At this point in the coronavirus pandemic, in the United States, local mandates on mask-wearing are disappearing as quickly as toilet paper did from supermarket shelves two years ago. Nationally, the guidance on wearing masks remains, at least for now. So, should you wear a mask or not? Infectious disease experts have some tips for anywhere you live. The obligation to wear a mask depends on where you live in the United States. Whether or not you should use it is an entirely different question, experts say.
About one-fifth of states have never mandated masks. Some states with more conservative governors, such as Florida, punished schools that mandated masks by withholding funding, even when COVID-19 cases were at record levels.Officials in Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, and California — states that had stricter mask rules — announced this week that as cases drop significantly in their areas, people will soon be able to get rid of masks if they wish.
Some public health experts think now is the right time to eliminate mandates, especially in highly vaccinated communities.