Many of the biggest US states led by Democrats are abruptly taking a different approach toward mask mandate this week, even as the Joe Biden administration continues to recommend mask requirements.
California, Oregon, Delaware and Connecticut joined New Jersey in announcing a partial end to mask mandates on Monday. The Governors of Rhode Island and Massachusetts announced plans on Wednesday to end school mask mandates.
Also on Wednesday, New York and Illinois said they would scrap mask requirements for businesses but are still reviewing mask mandate for schools. Washington will end an outdoor mask mandate and is now reviewing the indoor mask mandate, Xinhua news agency reported.
“This adds up to a pivotal moment in the politics of the pandemic,” reported The Washington Post (WP). From the outset, Democrats urged public health restrictions while Republicans largely rejected them despite the science showing they would save lives.
But now — with many Americans vaccinated, the public deeply impatient and the current surge fading — many Democrats are concluding that “the time for aggressive statewide measures has passed and are unwilling to risk a further electoral backlash,” said WP.
Mask mandates continued to fall in traditionally cautious blue states as the number of US coronavirus cases plunged, Covid-19 hospitalisations dropped below 100,000, but the seven-day average Covid-19 deaths still hovers around 2,600 nationally.
Taken together, this is “another unusual moment in the once-in-a-century public health crisis: a weary public and eager elected officials largely ignoring the advice of the health professionals who had guided them to this point,” added WP.
The White House has been meeting with outside health experts to plan a pandemic exit strategy and a transition to a “new normal”, but “the behind-the-scenes effort is crashing into a very public reality: a string of blue-state Governors are abandoning mask mandates,” reported The New York Times on Wednesday.
Two of the administration’s top doctors — Anthony Fauci, the President’s Chief Medical Adviser for the pandemic, and Rochelle Walensky, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), both expressed qualified optimism about the direction of the pandemic.
If cases continue to fall and no new variants arise, the country “could be heading toward what we would consider more normality,” Fauci was quoted as saying. However, he also cautioned that the situation “is still unpredictable,” and any transition out of the current crisis would be gradual.
Earlier, Fauci told the Financial Times that decisions on coronavirus restrictions in the US will be increasingly made on a local level, “as we get out of the full-blown pandemic phase of Covid-19, which we are certainly heading out of.”
Walensky said pointedly that while her agency is working on new guidance for the states, it is too soon for all Americans to take off their masks in indoor public places.
“Our hospitalisations are still high, our death rates are still high,” she added during a news briefing by the White House Covid-19 response team. “So, as we work toward that and as we are encouraged by the current trends, we are not there yet,” she said.