US states rolling back mask mandates despite CDC’s caution

Washington, Feb 9 (EFE).- New York and Massachusetts on Wednesday became the latest Democratic-majority states to reverse mask mandates, although a top federal health official cautioned against lifting restrictions amid a high death count triggered by the Omicron coronavirus variant.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said mask mandates for most indoor public settings will be lifted as of Thursday, saying “tremendous progress” in bringing down the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases has allowed the state to move into a “new phase.”

The governor said data showing hospitalizations have fallen 63 percent since Jan. 12 gave officials the confidence to take this step.

“Why is all this happening? Because New Yorkers and businesses stepped up and did the right thing,” Hochul said. “And I will always be grateful for them for being the reason these numbers have been declining.”

Indoor mask mandates had been in place in public settings across New York state, including stores, public transit and private businesses. Fines of up to $1,000 could be handed down for each violation.

Face coverings will still need to be worn at schools, although Hochul said officials will reassess mandates for those settings in March.

In September, a group of parents who oppose mask mandates at schools filed a lawsuit against then-state health Commissioner Howard Zucker, alleging that the rules had “made the children sick, stunted their intellectual and social growth and most importantly violated their freedom of speech and association.”

Separately, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a moderate Republican in a heavily Democratic state, announced Wednesday a lifting of his state’s school mask mandate at the end of the month.

He said high vaccination rates and the availability of rapid at-home Covid tests for school workers and students had made the decision possible.

Earlier this week, New Jersey, Delaware, California and Oregon – all of which have Democratic governors – announced that mask requirements at schools and other indoor settings will be allowed to expire in the coming weeks.

The Democratic governor of Illinois, meanwhile, said Wednesday he intended to lift the current indoor mask mandate for that state, with certain exceptions, by Feb. 28.

These moves come amid a sharp drop in new confirmed coronavirus cases, with figures from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicating that the average number of new daily cases over the past seven days stands at 247,000, down from 805,000 new cases in the previous seven-day period.

Even so, health officials at the federal level continued to take a cautious approach, recommending Wednesday that people continue to use face coverings due to a high number of Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths.

“At this time, we continue to recommend masking in areas of high and substantial transmission, and that’s much of the country right now,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a press briefing Wednesday.

She said her agency is continually updating its recommendations based on available data.

But in light of continued high numbers of Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths, she said it is not in a position at this time to recommend a lifting of mask requirements.

Coronavirus deaths have risen steadily since the end of last year, climbing from an average of 249 new deaths per day in late 2021 to 3,176 daily deaths in early February.

New hospital admissions remain high – with an average daily total of 13,000 – but are down from a daily average of 17,000 new admissions over the previous seven days.

The US has been the country hardest hit by Covid-19, with more than 77 million confirmed cases and more than 909,000 deaths since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University. EFE


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