Feb. 23, 2022 -- As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to decline across the U.S., all states but one -- Hawaii -- have dropped their mask mandates or have announced plans to do so in coming weeks.

Retailers and cruises are following along, with Apple and Target stores lifting their own mask mandates this week. Cruise lines such as Norwegian and Royal Caribbean International have said mask requirements will be relaxed for vaccinated passengers, according to The Washington Post.

But CDC guidance hasn’t changed even as the Omicron variant recedes across the country. Vaccinated people should wear masks when indoors in areas of “substantial or high transmission,” which still covers more than 95% of the country, according to a CDC map.

As daily cases continue to fall, the CDC is reviewing its recommendations, Rochelle Walensky, MD, the CDC director, said during a briefing last week.

“We want to give people a break from things like mask-wearing, when these metrics are better, and then have the ability to reach for them again should things worsen,” she said.

As states relax mask rules, county and city officials are now deciding what to do in their jurisdictions. Vaccinated residents in Los Angeles County may soon be able to go maskless in indoor settings that check for proof of vaccination, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Chicago will also end its mask and COVID-19 vaccine mandates for public places such as restaurants next Monday, according to the Chicago Tribune. Illinois will end a statewide indoor mask mandate on the same day. Masks will still be required in health care settings and public transmit.

State and local school boards are debating their mask policies as well. The Maryland State Board of Education voted Tuesday to allow local school districts to decide whether students must wear face coverings in school, according to The Associated Press. The update will take effect on March 1 if approved by a Maryland General Assembly committee that oversees the rule.

In New York, state officials have begun lifting mask rules. At the same time, 58% of New York voters want to see early March data before school mask mandates are ended, according to a new poll, released Tuesday by the Siena College Research Institute. About 45% of those polled said the state’s indoor public mask mandate should also still be in place.

The debate about wearing masks in schools will likely continue, especially as districts get caught between health authorities and parents, according to The Wall Street Journal. District officials in several states are receiving hundreds of emails daily from both sides, with parents calling for mask rules to end or saying that requirements should remain in place for now to keep kids safe.

Show Sources

The Washington Post: “As mask mandates end in all but one state, retailers and cruises follow suit.”

CDC: “COVID-19: Your Guide to Masks,” “COVID-19 Integrated County View.”

White House: “Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials,” Feb. 16, 2022.

Los Angeles Times: “L.A. County could relax mask rules in places with vaccine verification, officials say.”

Chicago Tribune: “Chicago will drop mask and proof-of-vaccine mandates at the end of the month; Cook County follows suit.”

The Associated Press: “Maryland board votes to let local schools decide on masks.”

Siena College Research Institute: “Strong Majority (58%) Want Early March Data Before Lifting School Mask Mandate; Plurality (45%) Still Want Indoor Public Mask Mandate.”

The Wall Street Journal: “Masks in Schools: Districts Get Caught Between Health Authorities and Parent Pushback.”

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