New York will end its mask-or-vaccine mandate for indoor businesses on Thursday
By Eric Levenson, Amir Vera and Jason Hanna, CNN
(CNN) -- New York will lift its statewide mask-or-vaccine requirement for indoor businesses -- but not for schools -- on Thursday, Gov. Kathy Hochul said.
"Given the declining cases, given the declining hospitalizations, that is why we feel comfortable to life this in effect tomorrow," she said Wednesday. "We want to make sure that every business knows, this is your prerogative. And individuals who want to continue wearing masks, continue wearing masks."
The mandate required businesses to ask customers for proof of vaccination or for them to wear masks indoors, except when eating or drinking. The emergency temporary measure was put in place two months ago and was set to expire Thursday.
The mask mandate still remains in place for schools, child care settings, hospitals, nursing homes and on public transit. Hochul said the state plans to review student Covid-19 test results and other metrics next month to decide whether to continue requiring masks in schools.
"After the break, after we've had kids tested, we are going to make an assessment that first week in March based on all the metrics I've described to you and look at that combined picture," the governor said. She acknowledged it was a "strong possibility" the school mask mandate will be lifted.
Following the decision, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced private businesses can choose whether to require masks.
The move comes as the Omicron wave that swept across the US in the last few months has started to recede, prompting many state officials in politically liberal regions to pull back on Covid-19 mitigation measures.
A number of Northeast states with high vaccination rates, including New Jersey and Delaware, have set timelines for ending school mask mandates in recent days.
On Wednesday, Massachusetts announced it will lift its school mask mandate on February 28, according to Gov. Charlie Baker and the state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
"We've learned a lot about how safe schools are and how to keep kids in class learning over the course of this pandemic," Baker, a Republican, said. "We have far more tools available to us to deal with the pandemic than we had back at the beginning."
Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee announced the state will be lifting its indoor mask mandates and proof of vaccination protocols on Friday.
In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the state -- which is seeing the fastest decline in hospitalizations since the pandemic -- is planning to lift its statewide indoor mask requirement on February 28.
Further, nearly a dozen health officers in California's Bay Area will lift universal mask requirements for most indoor settings starting next Wednesday, according to a joint press release. And the Denver Department of Public Health & Environment announced it will lift its school mask mandate on February 25.
NY's requirement began two months ago
In New York, Hochul issued the mask-or-vaccine requirement for all indoor businesses in December 2021 as the Omicron variant caused a large increase in Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. That wave of new cases peaked about a month ago and has since receded.
On Tuesday, Hochul said the requirement was put in place "when we first saw the early signs of this Omicron could be wildly contagious," she said. "It certainly was, and so we put in some protections in place to help our workplaces and help employees and customers."
Two weeks ago, a judge struck down the mandate, saying the Department of Health did not have the authority to put it in place, but an appeals court judge allowed it to stay in effect.
Hochul met earlier this week with teachers, superintendents and parents to thank them for keeping schools safe and open and to discuss how to continue to "smartly" protect against Covid-19.
In a statement released after the meeting, New York State School Boards Association Executive Director Robert S. Schneider summed up the challenge of determining Covid-19 protocols in schools.
"Like everyone, our members are ready to get past this pandemic and return to life as normal, and they want to do so in a way that keeps all of our students, teachers, employees and their families safe. The governor, like school board members, must balance many different concerns and ultimately decide based on what's best for our students."
Other states set timelines for lifting mandates
Other states have started lifting their mask mandates. Oregon's health department announced the state will remove general mask requirements for indoor public places no later than March 31. School mask mandates will also be lifted March 31, according to CNN affiliate KATU-TV.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state's indoor mask requirement will expire February 15, though unvaccinated people will still need to wear masks indoors.
Washington's outdoor mask mandate will be lifted on February 18, Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday afternoon at a news conference.
Inslee said it's not time to lift all masking requirements just yet and he plans to share more information after gathering another week or so of data.
The governor said the state will make a "safe transition" when it's time.
"The day to totally remove masks rapidly approaching," Inslee said. "I did not require masks for symbolism, I required them because they work. Now I believe we're in a position to transition to a different state."
Democratic governors in New Jersey, Delaware and Connecticut announced that school mask mandates will be lifted in the coming weeks. The governors cited the declines in Covid-19 case counts, hospitalizations, test positivity rates and rates of transmission in making their decision.
In Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont said he recommends ending the statewide mask mandate in schools and childcare centers effective February 28, leaving decisions on mask requirements in schools to officials at the local level.
In Delaware, Gov. John Carney said that public and private K-12 mask mandates will expire March 31, and in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy said the state's universal mask mandate for schools and child-care settings will lift March 7.
Lifting of school mask mandates goes against guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency has not provided states a road map for how to transition from the emergency phase of Covid-19 into the "new normal," so these states have taken steps on their own.
"We've adhered overwhelmingly with the CDC guidance. The reason why we're making this step today is our reality in New Jersey," Murphy told CNN on Monday. "We are now in a dramatically different place than the norm right now across the country, which is why we feel like we can decouple and take this step."
Pritzker, the Illinois governor, has teased changes to his state's indoor mask policy in the past few days.
"I think I've said over the last few press conferences that I really believe that we ought to be looking seriously at how to ratchet that back. I think we're going to be making announcements very soon about that," Pritzker said at an unrelated news conference Tuesday, in response to reporters asking about the mandate.
At a Monday news conference, Pritzker addressed a circuit judge's temporary restraining order that blocked schools from enforcing portions of his school-related Covid-19 mitigation policies, saying he asked the state's attorney general to work to get the restraining order overturned.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly characterized New York's mask mandate. It requires businesses to ask customers for proof of vaccination or for them to wear masks indoors, not both.
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