Masks in schools are starting to vanish in parts of the U.S., even in liberal states that have been stricter during Covid and more hesitant to drop restrictions during the pandemic so far, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and New York Gov Kathy Hochul have dragged their feet on lifting the controversial policy.
Eight states, all that would typically considered blue states, have either lifted mask mandates or set plans to do so in the coming weeks in recent days.
‘We worked on this together as Governors throughout the region. We thought this is a good time,’ Connecticut Gov Ned Lamont told CNBC’s Squawk Box. Other nearby states like Delaware, Massachusetts and New Jersey announced similar lifting of masks in schools as Connecticut did.
Lamont noted that cases are going down in his state, and in the state’s of his peers. Cases in Connecticut are down 70 percent over the past two weeks, plummeting after the state suffered a massive surge early in the Omicron variant’s surge. The other nearby states that may have been a part of the coalition experienced similar drops, with cases down 71 percent in New Jersey, Massachusetts and Delaware.
Covid cases are down nationwide as well, with all 50 states recording declining cases over the past two weeks. The U.S. is recording 223,417 infections daily, a 43 percent drop from 394,741 cases per day this time last week.
‘Our infection rates are back to low, hospitalizations are way down,’ Lamont said.
‘Most importantly people have the ability to keep themselves safe now.’
He notes that vaccines and booster shots are widely available at this point, and there are little barriers to getting the shot. These northeastern states are among the most vaccinated in the country as well – with more than 70 percent of residents fully vaccinated in each.
Gov Ned Lamont (left) is among four northeastern governors that set dates to lift mask mandates in school this week. He said it was a joint decision among a coalition of governors. Gov Kathy Hochul (right) allowed New York’s mask mandate to expire Wendesday, though she still required face coverings in schools
Covid cases are dropping over the past two weeks in all 50 states, and northeastern states like Connecticut and New York in particular are posting massive falls of around 70% each
New York is a notable straggler, though. While Gov Kathy Hochul allowed for her state’s overall mask mandate to expire on Wednesday, she notably kept the mandates in-place in schools, breaking ranks from her peers.
The CDC has been hesitant the revise guidance as well. The agency still recommends that all children mask in schools, and still imposes mask mandates on planes and trains.
State and county governments still have discretion when it comes to local policy, though. Blue states would usually follow CDC guidance, but the recent lifting in mask mandates in these states – which also include California, Illinois and Oregon – shows that many are starting to break ranks.
Lamont said that localities are still free to set mandates at their own discretion. While small, less densely populated, areas of the state will likely lift masks when Connecticut’s mandate ends on February 28. Population centers that are more vulnerable to virus transmission can still choose to keep masks in place.
While some have blamed the sudden shift in blue states to declining poll figures ahead of this fall’s midterm elections, Lamont says the decision was driven by data, not politics, and called the opinions ‘nonsense.’
‘With omicron the numbers have come down, the metrics are pretty clear we can get rid of these mask mandates and we can do it safely,’ he said.
In total, ten states and Washington D.C. still require masks in school, but there is growing pressure for these final states to lift these mandates. Dr Kavita Patel, an MSNBC contributor who works as a primary care physician and director of policy for the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement in the Obama administration, told Squawk Box Wednesday that experts will soon have to consider lifting them.
‘If you told me there’s a future where we’re wearing masks in perpetuity I’d say that’s ridiculous, the science doesn’t support that if we see that cases are coming down,’ she said.
Added pressure is coming from overseas as well. Last month, the UK lifted all pandemic-related restrictions as cases continue to plummet in the nation. America’s greatest foreign ally often precedes the U.S. by a few weeks during the pandemic, and it is rare that the European nation has less-strict Covid guidelines than its peer across the pond.
In the UK, masks in schools, work from home orders, vaccine passports and requirements to test negative before travelling into the country have been lifted. As cases continue to fall, now under 70,000 per day after peaking at 180,000 early last month, some are even clamoring to stop daily reporting of Covid cases and deaths in the country.
Other European countries like Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland have also either lifted restrictions or laid out plans to do so in recent weeks.
Every single state in the U.S. is recording a drop in cases over the past two weeks. The drop offs have been massive as well, with 43 states having had cases slash in half over the past two weeks – and 21 recording a 70 percent fall.
Only weeks ago, the massive falls in cases were almost exclusively on the east coast.