Multiple States Announce Plans to Drop School Mask Mandates

Four Democratic governors — from Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Oregon — said that the decision to require masks will be left up to individual school districts

school masks
Staff and students wearing masks at school. Photo: Getty

The Democratic governors from four states announced plans to lift their school mask mandates over the next two months as COVID-19 cases continue to decline.

School districts in Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Oregon will all be able to set their own rules for masks in schools by the end of March. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced that their school mask mandate will be removed at the end of February, with New Jersey following on March 7. Both Delaware and Oregon will end theirs no later than March 31, and Oregon plans to also lift their statewide mask mandate for all public places on that day.

The decision goes against the current Centers for Disease Control recommendation, which still says that masking in schools is an essential step in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

On Tuesday, the Biden administration reiterated their stance in favor of masks in schools, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki saying they support the CDC's position, though that will be "continuously" reassessed based on "science and data."

The governors largely said that their decisions were based on the falling COVID-19 case numbers in their states, and their vaccination rates. The three northeastern states — Connecticut, Delaware and New Jersey — all had early omicron outbreaks and are now seeing their case numbers fall by 71% over the last two weeks, according to data compiled by The New York Times. Oregon is also seeing cases drop, though not as steeply — theirs are down 49% in the last two weeks.

"I think now is the time for us to say, statewide mask mandate is no longer at our level, each and every mayor, each and every superintendent can make that call for themselves," Lamont said Monday, CNN reported. "Every town has a certain different sense of what the vaccination [rate] is, what the risks are there. I think you now know enough after two years to be able to make an informed decision yourself."

"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," Dean Sidelinger, a state health officer and epidemiologist at the Oregon Health Authority said. "At that point, it will be safer to lift mask requirements."

Several Republican-led states have banned mask mandates in their schools and fined counties or school districts that went against their laws, such as Florida, Texas and now Virginia.

Connecticut and New Jersey have some of the highest vaccination rates in the country — around 77% of Connecticut residents are fully vaccinated as are 73% of people in New Jersey, according to the CDC. Delaware and Oregon, though, are behind, with 67% and 68%, respectively.

And child vaccination rates nationwide are lagging. Since Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine was approved for use in kids 5 to 11, just 31.2% in the age group have received at least one dose, and 22.9% are fully vaccinated. The next age group up, kids 12 to 17, is closer to the national average, with 66.6% having received at least one dose and 56.4% fully vaccinated.

Pediatric COVID-19 case rates are starting to decline nationwide after records were shattered in January during the height of the omicron outbreak. During the week ending on Feb. 3, there were 632,000 pediatric cases reported in the U.S., down from the high of 1,150,000 over the week of Jan. 20, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported.

"However, child cases this week remained extremely high, over double the peak level of the Delta surge in 2021," they added.

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