The Biden administration has come out against relaxing mask mandates, after several Democratic-controlled states set timelines to end masking requirements in schools and public places this week.
Several states including New York, New Jersey, California, Connecticut, and President Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware announced timelines to end mask mandates over the next few months, citing declining hospitalizations and rates of Omicron transmission.
Delaware Gov. John Carney, a Democrat who serves on Biden’s Council of Governors, announced Monday that the state’s universal indoor mask mandate would expire on Feb. 11 and indicated that mask requirements at schools and childcare facilities would end March 31. The number of new cases in Delaware has plummeted more than 70 percent over the past two weeks, according to CDC data.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, another Democrat in a state hit hard by Omicron but where the wave has largely subsided, announced Wednesday that the indoor mask mandate would expire Thursday, while the school mask mandate would remain in place for the time being.
“Numbers are coming down, and it is time to adapt,” Hochul said Thursday, according to the New York Times. “I suspect we’re going to see many, many people still wearing their masks. We are not saying it’s over.”
Even as COVID case rates have decreased from their enormous peak following the winter holidays, more than 100,000 people remain in the hospital nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
White House COVID response coordinator Jeffrey Zients said during a COVID briefing Wednesday that the White House is “reaching out to governors and outside public health experts and doctors and local public health officials on steps we should be taking to keep the country moving forward.” But during that same briefing, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that for now, it’s too soon to end mask mandates.
“Our hospitalizations are still high, our death rates are still high,” Walensky said Wednesday. “So, as we work towards [the guidance] and as we are encouraged by the current trends, we are not there yet.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki echoed Walensky at a White House press briefing later in the day, saying that the White House understands “people are tired of masks.”
“There are some states that are moving toward rolling back or giving more choice to local communities about how they will implement these requirements,” Psaki said. “But, again, from the federal government, what our responsibility to do is to abide by what the president committed to on the campaign, which is to listen to scientists, listen to data.”
“That doesn’t move at the speed of politics,” she added. “It moves at the speed of data.”
At least one prominent House Democrat is backing his governor’s move, however. New York Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair, tweeted Thursday that he agrees with Hochul and said it’s “time to give people their lives back.”
“With science as our guide, we’re ready to start getting back to normal,” Maloney tweeted.
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