How long will Covid-19 masking rules last?
Analysis by Zachary B. Wolf, CNN
(CNN) -- The US is slowly moving away from mask requirements.
- Atlanta's mayor declared the city a "green zone" and said dropping Covid-19 cases allowed her to follow the science and lift the city's mask rule.
- Florida school districts Miami-Dade and Broward -- which both stood up to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and risked losing state funding to implement mask rules to protect students this fall -- are going mask-optional.
- Pennsylvania's Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday that he would lift a statewide mask rule for students in January. On Wednesday, a state court hurried things along, striking down the rule and lifting it immediately, although Wolf's administration can appeal.
On the one hand, we've seen this movie before. Covid-19 cases and deaths are falling, but the same was true last spring before the Delta variant tore through the country. Is it time to dial back the restrictions or does letting up now risk a resurgence in the winter?
On the other hand, we're in a new place entirely. Kids ages 5-11 can get vaccinated. Adults and older kids have had access to the vaccines for months.
We know so much more now about when and where masks are needed: in crowded indoor spaces. But we also don't know when a new variant could flare.
"We're on a downward trend. We want to keep going on a downward trend," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Bloomberg TV on Tuesday. "We're not going to have to be wearing masks forever. But for now, particularly as the CDC recommends, in indoor congregate settings, where you don't really have a good handle on who is vaccinated and who is not, under those circumstances the CDC still recommends, appropriately, that we wear masks."
That's why Broadway has extended its mask requirement and the federal government has extended the requirement for mask use on public transportation through January 18. When I go to an indoor concert this week in Washington, for the first time in nearly two years, I'll have to flash a picture of my vaccination card and mask up.
Those requirements vary from city to city and venue to venue, but larger concert promoters and big-name bands have required proof of vaccination for indoor and outdoor shows. It's a different story for sports arenas.
Support for mask requirements is shrinking. Two-thirds of Americans were strongly or somewhat supportive of governments requiring masks to be worn in all public places in an Axios/Ipsos poll conducted at the end of August, with 45% strongly in support. Only about one-third were strongly supportive in the same poll in early November, and a combined 60% were strongly or somewhat supportive.
Fewer requirements by far. But that support is not followed up by state governments, according to data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation as of November 2.
- Only Oregon still has a statewide mask requirement.
- Five states have indoor-only mask requirements.
- Four states, including California and New York, have mask requirements for unvaccinated people.
- 41 states have no rules at the state level.
Encouraging masks, but keeping options open. Many retailers still require masks for employees and encourage them indoors for patrons but do not necessarily require them. AARP has a rolling list of policies at the nation's largest retailers.
Masks are an increasingly local decision, even in schools. Eighteen states have statewide mask requirements for schools, according to Kaiser, but most large school districts still require masks for students. Many cities still have requirements, particularly for people indoors, and many school districts still require masks.
Perrysburg School Superintendent Thomas Hosler told CNN about his decision to lift the mask requirement; his is one of the 65% of Ohio school districts that have dropped rules as Covid-19 cases have plunged.
"No matter what decision we make, there's going to be a loud vocal reaction opposed to it," Hosler said. "It's a little bit liberating, in a sense, because we're going to go ahead and make the best decision for kids to keep them safe."
An increasing number of school districts are making this decision even though the guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not changed. The government agency still recommends that everyone -- students, staff, teachers and visitors to K-12 schools -- wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
CNN's Jen Christensen looked at school records around the country. Here are excerpts of that analysis (the words in bold are mine):
Where masks are still a thing. Masks are still mandatory in states including Illinois, California, New York and Washington. Washington state even promised to withhold money from districts that don't comply. In those and many other states, parents have staged large protests and sued districts over mask mandates, leaving school leaders with tough choices about how to best keep kids safe.
Where masks are optional. Some, but not all, schools in Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio have made masks in schools optional, often citing declines in Covid-19 cases. In Texas, schools aren't even allowed to require masks, although some districts, including Dallas, have ignored the state and kept the mandates. There's a federal investigation to determine if the Texas prohibition on mask mandates is impinging on the rights of students with disabilities.
Masks do work. CNN's Rob Picheta wrote:The science behind masks is fairly clear, and has only become more robust over the course of the pandemic. Studies have shown that masks significantly decrease the chances of transmitting coronavirus, and some types of masks can help prevent their wearers from catching the virus.
We don't really know what will happen next with the virus, and that means masks could certainly return. France returned to school masking for many younger kids this week as cases there surged. Masks are still required in secondary schools, according to the media siteFrance 24.
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