California and several of other states are doing away with mask mandates in the coming days and weeks as the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, which can cause COVID-19, fades across America.
Governors in three other blue states, Connecticut, Delaware, and New Jersey, will follow suit.
But in California, the rule will come with a whole bunch of caveats.
“California will end its indoor masking requirement for vaccinated people next week but masks still are the rule for schoolchildren,” the Associated Press reported.
“After Feb. 15, unvaccinated people still will be required to be masked indoors, and everyone — vaccinated or not — will have to wear masks in higher-risk areas like public transit and nursing homes and other congregate living facilities, officials said,” the AP said. “Local governments can continue their own indoor masking requirements and last week Los Angeles County’s health officials said they intend to keep theirs in place beyond the state deadline.
What’s more, state officials said indoor “mega events” with more than 1,000 people “will have to require vaccinations or negative tests for those attending and those who are unvaccinated will be required to wear masks,” the AP reported.
“Omicron has loosened its hold on California, vaccines for children under 5 are around the corner, and access to COVID-19 treatments is improving,” state Public Health Officer Dr. Tomás J. Aragón said, according to the wire service. “With things moving in the right direction, we are making responsible modifications to COVID-19 prevention measures, while also continuing to develop a longer-term action plan for the state.”
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) called the decision to end mask mandates “a huge step back to normalcy for our kids” but added that individual school districts can continue requiring masks if they choose after the state mandate ends March 7.
“We are not – and I’ve said this many times – going to manage COVID to zero,” Murphy said. “We have to learn how to live with COVID as we move from a pandemic to an endemic phase of this virus.”
The moves come as Omicron loosens its grip on the U.S. On Sunday, there were 396 deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S., according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering. Exactly a year before, on February 6, 2021, there were 2,662 deaths.
While that’s just a single day — and over the past month the two numbers were on any given day not far apart — other data show things may be beginning to ebb.
“Most states are now reporting fewer deaths than they had been a week ago, a USA Today analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows,” the paper wrote Monday. “Just 20 states reported increasing numbers of deaths compared to the previous week. That number was 34 states a week earlier. The United States continues to average about 2,400 to 2,500 deaths per day, a daily human cost about equal to the losses at Pearl Harbor.”
“We need to be cautiously optimistic,” Ogbonnaya Omenka, an assistant professor and director of diversity at the Butler University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, told USA Today. “Considering the surrounding circumstances, including the spread of the virus still, it won’t be very useful to the public to expect omicron to be the last variant.”
Joseph Curl has covered politics for 35 years, including 12 years as White House correspondent, and ran the Drudge Report from 2010 to 2015. Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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