Even some of the most ardent supporters of Covid-19 precautions are ditching mask mandates as health officials release new guidelines and hospitalizations plummet.
Across the country, more governors are letting go of mask rules – including in states that have long held on to school mask mandates.
California, Oregon and Washington state will shift from mask requirements to mask recommendations in schools starting at 11:59 p.m. March 11, according to a statement from the governors Monday.
California is also dropping its requirement for unvaccinated people to wear masks in most indoor settings starting Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office said. But masks will still be strongly recommended for everyone in most indoor settings.
And face masks will still be required for everyone in high transmission settings such as public transit, emergency shelters, health care settings, correctional facilities, homeless shelters and long-term care facilities in California, the statement said.
According to California’s top health official, the state’s case rate has dropped 66%. Dr. Mark Ghaly, state Health and Human Services Agency secretary, said he’s “pleased with how the data has come down.”
Los Angeles County is aligning itself with California’s new masking guidance by no longer requiring masks in schools starting March 12, officials announced Monday.
Up north, the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) announced it will be keeping its mask mandate.
“Universal indoor masking will continue to be in effect at SFUSD as part of our layered approach to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our schools. Face masks are not required outdoors.”
Illinois lifted its mask mandate for restaurants, bars, gyms and stores on Monday. And Chicago ended its proof-of-vaccination requirement.
But that doesn’t mean everyone should get rid of their masks. For example, masks are still required on most public transportation nationwide.
“I would still recommend that if you are in indoor spaces, especially those that are crowded, that you put on a mask,” said Dr. Rachel Rubin of the Cook County Department of Health.
In Massachusetts, a statewide mask mandate for K-12 schools ends Monday. A similar mandate in Connecticut also ends Monday, and local school districts will be able to decide whether to require masks.
Starting Tuesday, Washington, DC will no longer require masks indoors. But Mayor Muriel Bowser said individual businesses still have the option of requiring masks or mandating vaccinations.
And New York state will no longer require students to wear masks in schools starting Wednesday. But Gov. Kathy Hochul said counties and cities with higher transmission rates can still require masks in schools, and students can still wear masks if their families choose.
The news followed steep declines in statewide Covid-19 hospitalizations and new guidance Friday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating healthy Americans in many counties don’t need to wear masks indoors anymore.
“If we see no unforeseen spikes and our numbers continue to show a low level of risk, New York City will remove the indoor mask mandate for public school children, effective next Monday, March 7,” Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement Sunday.
The mayor said he also plans to lift the city’s proof-of-vaccination requirement for indoor venues starting March 7, barring an unexpected spike in Covid-19 numbers this week.
“But even as some jurisdictions lift masking requirements, we must grapple with the fact that millions of people in the U.S. are immunocompromised, more susceptible to severe COVID outcomes, or still too young to be eligible for the vaccine,” said Dr. Gerald Harmon, president of the American Medical Association.
“In light of those facts, I personally will continue to wear a mask in most indoor public settings, and I urge all Americans to consider doing the same, especially in places like pharmacies, grocery stores, on public transportation – locations all of us, regardless of vaccination status or risk factors, must visit regularly.”
What the new CDC guidelines say
The CDC released new metrics Friday to help determine whether Americans should wear face masks indoors.
Previously, indoor masking was recommended for those living in areas with “high” or “substantial” transmission of Covid-19 cases. That meant most Americans lived in counties where indoor masking was recommended.
But the new guidance includes two new metrics: hospital admissions and hospital capacity. As of Friday, most Americans lived in areas where healthy adults didn’t have to wear masks anymore.
Of the 10 most populous counties, Los Angeles County and San Diego County were the only two where indoor masking is still recommended for everyone.
Six states had no residents living in a county where the CDC still recommends universal indoor masking: Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island.
But several states had more than 75% of residents living in a county considered to have a “high” community level: Kentucky, West Virginia, Maine and Montana.
Transportation mandate is still up in the air
The Transportation Security Administration’s mask mandate for airports, commercial airplanes, public buses and passenger trains is set to expire March 18. It’s not clear what will happen after that.
Masks are not required on school buses, the CDC said Friday. But school systems “may choose to require that people wear masks on buses or vans.”
While mask mandates disappear in more states, that doesn’t mean Americans can ditch masks entirely, the president of the American Medical Association said.
“Although masks may no longer be required indoors in many parts of the U.S., we know that wearing a well-fitted mask is an effective way to protect ourselves and our communities, including the most vulnerable, from COVID-19 — particularly in indoor settings when physical distancing is not possible,” Harmon said.
CNN’s Virginia Langmaid, Deidre McPhillips, Sarah Moon, Elizabeth Cohen and Jacqueline Howard contributed to this report.