Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul are both expected to join the ranks of fellow Democratic governors Wednesday in rescinding indoor mask mandates as COVID-19 cases drop rapidly across the United States.
“I think I’ve said over the last few press conferences that I really believe that we ought to be looking seriously at how to ratchet that back,” Pritzker said of his mask mandates at a news conference Tuesday. “I think we’re going to be making announcements very soon about that.”
Across the country, indoor mask requirements in blue states are falling like dominoes: Delaware’s indoor mask mandate will end Feb. 11; Oregon is lifting its requirements by March 31; California’s will be up by Feb. 16.
Oregon and Delaware also both announced plans to lift masking in schools this week, as did New Jersey and Connecticut.
Some cities have followed the cascade, too: Maine’s largest city, Portland, voted to scrap its indoor mask requirement Tuesday. Worcester, Massachusetts, did the same on Monday, and Mayor Michelle Wu of Boston hinted at rescinding proof-of-vaccination requirements if cases and hospitalizations continue falling. Milwaukee officials said now is the time to begin discussing the citywide mask mandate.
COVID-19 cases have fallen by more than two-thirds from their peak just weeks ago, data from Johns Hopkins University shows, and hospitalizations have tumbled more than 28% over the past three weeks to about 105,000 on average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Also in the news:
►Utah will no longer offer residents rapid COVID-19 tests after an analysis showed one brand of nasal swabs used at state mobile clinics often yielded false negatives.
►Johnson & Johnson shut down its only plant making usable batches of its COVID vaccine, although the pharmaceutical company says it has millions of doses in inventory, the New York Times reported.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 77 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 908,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 400 million cases and over 5.7 million deaths. More than 213 million Americans — 64.2% — are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
📘 What we’re reading: Heavy demand for coronavirus testing attracted lab operators who benefited from a narrow regulatory loophole while collecting millions in federal funds. USA TODAY’s Ken Alltucker and Grace Hauck explain.
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States, doctors say it’s time to phase out mask requirements in schools
Fatigue and frustration are setting in two years into the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, and a growing chorus of doctors, parents and state officials are calling for an end to school mask mandates.
A national conversation around an “offramp” to masking in schools has accelerated in recent days: officials in four Democrat-led states – Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Oregon – announced plans Monday to lift statewide school mask mandates, leaving it up to local school officials to decide whether to keep mandates for students, teachers and staff. Pennsylvania announced an end to its school mask mandate last month.
One cohort points to increasing access to vaccinations for children and declining COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Another group argues long-term masking puts an outsize burden on kids, with impacts on their mental health and possibly on their development.
“You cannot sustain a red-alert, all-hands-on-deck, emergency kind of response indefinitely,” said Dr. Shira Doron, an infectious disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. “People just can’t be on high alert like that without fatigue, without breaking.”
— Grace Hauck, USA TODAY
Contributing: The Associated Press