Governor Kathy Hochul will drop New York’s stringent indoor mask mandate on February 9, ending a requirement that businesses ask customers for proof of full vaccination or require mask-wearing at all times, and marking a turning point in the state’s Coronavirus response, according to three people briefed on her decision. The decision will eliminate a rule that prompted legal and interpersonal clashes over mask-wearing, especially in conservative parts of New York. It was set to expire on February 10 and would have required renewing. Governor Hochul is expected to let the mask mandate lapse just as a crushing winter surge in coronavirus cases is finally receding. But it was as yet unclear whether the Governor would renew or drop a separate mask mandate in New York schools that expires in two weeks.
Still, the easing of New York’s pandemic restrictions on businesses comes as Democratic-led states from New Jersey to California have announced similar moves this week, in a loosely coordinated effort that is the result of months of public-health planning, back-channel discussions, and political focus groups that began in the weeks after the November election. The moves highlight how even local officials who installed sweeping safety measures early in the pandemic are now considering shifting to an endemic response to COVID. “This is not a declaration of victory as much as an acknowledgment that we can responsibly live with this thing,” said New Jersey Democratic Governor Phil Muphy, who imposed some of the countries strictest COVID-related mandates in the earliest days of the pandemic. Under Governor Murphy’s new policies, which will come into effect on March 7, students and school employees in the state will no longer be required to wear masks.
Shortly after the New Jersey announcement on February 7, the Democratic Governors of California, Connecticut, Delaware, and Oregon separately said they would also end some mask mandates. Connecticut will permit students and staff members to stop wearing masks in schools by no later than Feb. 28 and Delaware will end mask mandates in schools by March 31. Oregon and California announced the end to mask mandates at indoor public spaces. Governor Gavin Newsom of California wrote on Twitter on February 7 that cases had dropped, hospitalizations had stabilized, and the state’s indoor mask mandate for vaccinated people would expire on February 15. Governor Kate Brown of Oregon on Twitter said on Monday that the state would “lift mask requirements no later than March 31.” The moves to eliminate mask mandates in these states come as the number of reported cases has dipped to its lowest level since the highly contagious Omicron variant touched off a wave of cases in December.
As of February 8, the daily average of new cases in the United States dropped to around 240,000, the lowest that figure has been since late December. Though the daily average of hospitalizations has steadily declined since its peak on January 20, the daily average of deaths linked to the virus has hovered at nearly 2,600 since January 27. The rollbacks also highlight the patchwork nature of health protocols that have yet to be synchronized from county to county within many states, let alone between states, since the pandemic began in early 2020. New Mexico and Illinois have statewide mask mandates for schools and many indoor settings. Idaho, Louisiana, and Mississippi recommend indoor mask-wearing, and Republican-led states like Texas and Florida have banned mandates. Whether to mandate mask-wearing in schools is up to local officials in most states. The mask rollbacks announced on February 7 appear to undercut messaging coming from federal officials.
Asked on February 7 about the lifting of mask mandates in New Jersey, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, pointed to federal guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that says masks can reduce transmission of coronavirus. “Our responsibility as the federal government is to rely on the data and the science that is being analyzed by our public health experts,” Psaki said at a news conference.