4 states announce they're dropping mask mandates for schools
Oregon is the latest state to set plans to lift its statewide mask mandate for schools, following earlier announcements Monday from New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware.
The loosening guidelines are signs that the four states are changing how they manage the COVID-19 pandemic as cases from the omicron surge continue to subside.
Oregon health officials announced Monday its end date for indoor mask requirements for public places and inside schools is March 31.
"The evidence from Oregon and around the country is clear: masks save lives by slowing the spread of COVID-19," Oregon state health officer Dr. Dean Sidelinger said in a news release.
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont recommended Monday that the state end the statewide mask mandate on Feb. 28 — the earliest date of the three states.
After the state mandate is lifted, the Democratic governor said it would be up to local leaders, like mayors or superintendents, to make their own decisions on mask requirements.
"Today with boosters, given vaccines, given the N95 masks, you are in a better position to keep yourself safe," Lamont said at a press conference.
The Garden State will lift its mask mandate in schools for both students and employees beginning on March 7, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday morning, though districts will still be able to require masking to control any spikes in infections. The news was first reported by The New York Times.
"Balancing public health with getting back to some semblance of normalcy is not easy. But we can responsibly take this step due to declining COVID numbers and growth in vaccinations," Murphy said in a tweet.
New Jersey was among the hardest-hit states early in the pandemic, and Murphy implemented a variety of strict public health measures to control the virus, garnering both praise and criticism for the aggressive approach to controlling COVID-19's spread.
Murphy said employees and students can still choose to wear masks in schools where they aren't required.
Delaware's indoor mask mandate for public and private K-12 schools and child care facilities will end on March 31, Gov. John Carney announced. The universal indoor mask mandate expires Friday.
He said the date would give districts and schools time to consider local masking requirements and allow the state to update its quarantine and contact tracing guidance.
"We're in a much better place than we were several weeks ago in the middle of the Omicron surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations," 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 added. "But we have the tools to keep ourselves and each other safe."
California announced Monday it will end indoor masking requirements for vaccinated people on Feb. 15, but that doesn't extend to schools.
A version of this story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.