Several states will drop mask mandates for schools in the coming weeks as COVID-19 cases continue to fall.
Oregon was the latest state on Monday to announce plans to lift its statewide mask requirement for schools, following earlier announcements from New Jersey, Connecticut, and Delaware. The changes are set to take place in late February and March.
“The evidence from Oregon and around the country is clear: masks save lives by slowing the spread of COVID-19,” Dean Sidelinger, MD, Oregon’s state health officer, said in a statement.
The state’s current hospitalization rate remains high at more than 1,000 per day, Sidelinger said, but should drop to 400 or below by late March.
“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,” he said. “At that point, it will be safer to lift mask requirements.”
Oregon will end indoor mask requirements for schools and public places on or before March 31. Delaware also said the indoor mask mandate for schools and child-care facilities will end on March 31, with its universal indoor mask mandate expiring Friday.
New Jersey will lift its mask mandate for schools and child-care providers on March 7. Connecticut said its statewide mask mandate for schools and child-care centers will end on Feb. 28 — the earliest date announced so far.
Once the state mandates are lifted in Connecticut and New Jersey, local leaders such as mayors and superintendents can make their own decisions about mask requirements, the governors said.
“Connecticut is seeing a dramatic decline in cases caused by the Omicron variant, and children over the age of 5 have had the ability to get vaccinated for more than 3 months now,” Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said in a statement.
“With this in mind, I think we are in a good position to phase out the requirement that masks be worn in all schools statewide and shift the determination on whether to require this to the local level,” he said.
Students and employees can also still choose to wear masks in schools where the requirements have been lifted, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday.
Schools won’t be allowed to ban the use of masks and will be expected to take disciplinary action if bullying occurs due to an individual’s choice to continue wearing a mask, he said. Before the mandate is lifted, the New Jersey Department of Health will release guidance to help school districts update their policies based on their local risks and student populations.
“Thankfully, we have reached a point where we feel confident that we can take another step toward normalcy for kids,” Murphy said in a statement.
“Given the continued drop in new cases and hospitalizations, projections indicating a continued decline over the coming weeks, and the continued growth of vaccinations for our school-aged population, we believe that we can responsibly end the universal mask mandate,” he said.
The later date for Delaware schools will also give districts time to consider local requirements and allow the state to update quarantine and contact tracing guidelines after the universal mask mandate ends on Feb. 11, Gov. John Carney said in a statement.
“I want to be clear about this point — COVID is still circulating in our communities. And the virus still poses a risk of serious illness, particularly among those who are not up to date on their vaccinations,” he said. “But we have the tools to keep ourselves and each other safe.”
Also on Monday, California announced that it will end indoor mask requirements for vaccinated people on Feb. 15. But the update doesn’t apply to schools, nursing homes, or public transportation, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The new policy will apply to counties in California without local mask orders, such as San Diego, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties, the newspaper reported. Counties can still choose to keep local mask orders, as Los Angeles County will do.
NPR: “4 states announce they’re dropping mask mandates for schools.”
Oregon Department of Human Services: “Oregon will lift indoor mask requirements no later than March 31.”
Office of Governor Ned Lamont: “Governor Lamont Announces Plan To Eliminate Statewide School Mask Requirement, Allow These Decisions To Be Determined at the Local Level.”
State of New Jersey Department of Health: “Governor Murphy Announces That Universal School Mask Mandate Will Be Lifted Effective March 7.”
Delaware Office of the Governor: “Governor Carney Announces Expiration of Universal Indoor Mask Mandate on February 11.”
Los Angeles Times: “California will lift mask mandate for vaccinated residents in indoor public places next week.”
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