Despite plummeting Covid-19 cases, widespread vaccine access and uptake, and the growing consensus that the dominant Omicron variant is mild and unimpeded by most mitigation measures, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday that it’s still too early for the agency to drop its mask recommendations.
Walensky’s position is still to adhere to CDC guidance, which is that well-fitting masks should still be worn in public indoor settings. Last month, the CDC clarified that some types of masks, such as N95s and KN95 respirators, provide more protection to the wearer and should be worn if possible.
When asked whether the CDC would issue guidance to governors on relaxing mask mandates, given the new scientific revelations, Walensky replied: “Yes we are prepared, we are working on that guidance, we are working on following the trends for the moment. What I will say thought is that our hospitalizations are still high, our death rates are still high…so as we are encouraged by the current trends, we’re not there yet.”
Her comments come as multiple governors and state legislatures representing both sides of the aisle have ditched state mask mandates for K-12 schools and public spaces in general.
For instance, both New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont phased out their states’ mask rules this week, deferring to localities to decide whether to impose them. The Democratic governors of Oregon and California also announced Monday that they would begin phasing out mask mandates in the coming weeks. Republican Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced Wednesday that he was lifting his state’s school mask mandate, effective February 28th. Delaware’s indoor mask mandate will be eliminated starting February 11, and its school mask mandate will end March 31, Democratic Governor John Carney confirmed Monday.
After Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin sparred with several school districts over his mask mandate ban, a court dismissed a parents lawsuit challenging his executive order, allowing it to remain in effect. In a subsequent win, the Virginia state Senate passed, with bipartisan support, a measure to codify it into law Tuesday.
Some governors, however, have resisted the anti-mask mandate movement and extended their states’ rules, or arbitrarily suspended some but not others.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday that the state would end its indoor mask mandate but keep its K-12 masking rules for kids, the least at risk demographic for Covid-19.
“Given the declining cases, given the declining hospitalizations, that is why we feel comfortable to lift this, in effect tomorrow,” Hochul said. But despite the recently mainstream acknowledgment that one-way masking works, and that the cloth masks children typically wear in schools do more harm than good, the governor did not make them optional for schools.