Shifting Mask Mandates: What to Expect in the Near Future



It has been almost two years since COVID-19 first struck the United States in March of 2020. During 2020 and even 2021, the uncertainty and danger that came with the rise of the virus prompted many state governments to enforce face mask mandates, reflecting the necessity to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus across the nation. However, now that it is 2022 and vaccines are widely available, it is time to ask ourselves: What does the COVID climate look like currently in the United States?


At this point, 76% of all Americans who are eligible for vaccines have taken at least one dose, while 65% of those eligible for vaccines are fully vaccinated. In a nation that has been politically polarized regarding the pandemic and methods to combat its spread, these vaccination rates are encouraging.


After January’s Omicron surge, the amount of daily new cases in the country has both steadily and rapidly declined. On January 10th, the peak day of the surge, there were 1,433,977 new cases in the United States. Comparatively, on February 19th there were 46,210 new cases, with the daily average cases recorded dropping by 65% within the last 14 days. Additionally in that time frame, the daily number of hospitalizations has dropped by 41%, the daily number of those in the I.C.U has dropped by 38%, and the daily average deaths has dropped by 13%.


With these optimistic signs in mind, nearly all states are adjusting their mask mandates in the near future, and the CDC recently announced that they will soon be releasing new COVID guidelines, including those for masking. In fact, shortly there will be no statewide mask mandates in the United States other than Hawaii.


On Thursday, February 17th, two of the last states with mask mandates—New Mexico and Washington state—announced that they will be dropping their statewide mandates. New Mexico’s governor, Michelle Lujan, explained that the declining hospitalization rates combined with the high vaccination rates in her state allowed New Mexico to make the decision.


Many red states did not ever have comprehensive mask mandates, and therefore no change is expected of them at this time. However, within the last week or so, blue states including California, New Jersey, and New York have quickly begun reversing their mask mandates due to the positive results that the nation is seeing in terms of COVID cases and vaccinations.


While the statewide mask mandates are widely and rapidly phasing out, uncertainty remains surrounding masking requirements in American schools. The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics have shown continued support for mask mandates within schools, explaining that it is a necessary measure to keep schools open and safe. On the other hand, some experts have claimed that children are able to learn better when they are not wearing masks, and that optional masking is a major step in restoring normalcy to the lives of America’s youth.


States’ approaches regarding the issue of whether to enforce masking in schools or not vary greatly across the nation. Some states including New Mexico, Washington, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Connecticut are allowing local districts to decide whether to enforce mask mandates or not. However, California and New York, states with some of the country’s largest school districts, have not announced an end to masking requirements in schools. The issue is so controversial that mask mandates in schools are being contested in court in Illinois and Maryland.


So, if you are wondering what changes in COVID policies to expect in your city, town, or district in the near future, the answer is not necessarily clear due to the inconsistencies across the U.S. map. The best place to begin to search for answers would be determining your state’s latest masking policy. If you or a loved one is enrolled in school, check your local government’s latest statements regarding mask mandates for the most accurate information, and make sure to keep yourself updated on the district’s masking policies.



Sources:


“Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count.” The New York Times, 20 Feb. 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/us/covid-cases.html. Accessed 20 Feb. 2022.


“Statewide mask mandates being lifted across the US mainland.” The Boston Globe, 18 Feb. 2022, https://www.bostonglobe.com/2022/02/18/world/statewide-mask-mandates-being-

lifted-across-us-mainland/. Accessed 20 Feb. 2022.



About the Author:


Karenna Marnik is a sophomore student. Over the past year, Karenna has developed an interest in journalism and has even contributed to her school’s newspaper. Additionally, she is passionate about sailing, debate club, and participating in student leadership. Karenna also enjoys a lifestyle filled with exercise and the outdoors, particularly hiking and skiing.