East Coast Democrat governors banded together to drop school mask mandates, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont said on Thursday, even as President Joe Biden continues to drag his feet on lifting Covid-19 restrictions.
The president is following the lead of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is still clinging to pandemic health guidelines despite Covid infections plunging 43 percent nationwide.
‘We worked on this together as Governors throughout the region. We thought this is a good time,’ Lamont told CNBC’s Squawk Box.
Other nearby states like Delaware, Massachusetts and New Jersey announced similar lifting of masks in schools as Connecticut did.
So far eight Democrat-run states have either lifted mask mandates or set plans to do so in the coming weeks in recent days.
Lamont noted that cases are going down in his state, and in the state’s of his peers. Cases in Connecticut are down 70 percent over the past two weeks, plummeting after the state suffered a massive surge early in the Omicron variant’s surge.
Cases in nearby New Jersey, Massachusetts and Delaware also decreased 71 percent.
Covid cases are down nationwide as well, with all 50 states recording declining cases over the past two weeks. The U.S. is recording 223,417 infections daily, a 43 percent drop from 394,741 cases per day this time last week.
‘Our infection rates are back to low, hospitalizations are way down,’ Lamont said. ‘Most importantly people have the ability to keep themselves safe now.’
He notes that vaccines and booster shots are widely available at this point, and there are little barriers to getting the shot. These northeastern states are among the most vaccinated in the country as well – with more than 70 percent of residents fully vaccinated in each.
Gov Ned Lamont (left) is among four northeastern governors that set dates to lift mask mandates in school this week. He said it was a joint decision among a coalition of governors. Gov Kathy Hochul (right) allowed New York’s mask mandate to expire Wendesday, though she still required face coverings in schools
Covid cases are dropping over the past two weeks in all 50 states, and northeastern states like Connecticut and New York in particular are posting massive falls of around 70% each
New York is a notable straggler, though. While Gov Kathy Hochul allowed for her state’s overall mask mandate to expire on Wednesday, she notably kept the mandates in-place in schools, breaking ranks from her peers.
It’s a controversial move for a governor facing her first election cycle this year, as Hochul readies to defend the seat she ascended to after the fall of disgraces ex-Governor Andrew Cuomo from a competitive crop of Democratic hopefuls.
Empire State Republicans at the US Capitol sent Hochul a letter on Tuesday urging her to drop the school mask mandate in keeping with her colleagues in the immediate area.
‘We have heard from countless families throughout our districts expressing their concerns with the mandate, and how it has negatively impacted their child’s experience in the classroom. The time is now to put an end to this unlawful mandate and to allow our children to get back to being just that, children.’
‘In light of the announcements by the Governors of New Jersey, Connecticut, and Delaware, we write today to urge you to immediately rescind the onerous and unconstitutional mask mandate in New York State’s schools,’ read a letter signed by eight members of the US House of Representatives from New York.
It was reported on Wednesday that the White House is meeting with a broad range of health experts both inside and outside the government to revamp the administration’s virus playbook.
Biden is hoping to transition to a ‘new normal’ in the next phase where Covid infections are dropping but the threat of a new variant still looms while the country is fresh off the chaos caused by the Omicron strain, the New York Times reported.
But the CDC has so far been hesitant the revise guidance. The agency still recommends that all children mask in schools, and still imposes mask mandates on planes and trains.
‘Our hospitalizations are still high, our death rates are still high. So, as we work toward that and as we are encouraged by the current trends, we are not there yet,’ CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a White House Covid team press conference on Wednesday.
‘We owe it to our children to make sure that they can safely stay in school. Right now, that includes masking. We’ve seen outbreaks that have occurred in communities where students were not masked in schools and had to close.’
State and county governments still have discretion when it comes to local policy, though. Blue states would usually follow CDC guidance, but the recent lifting in mask mandates in these states – which also include California, Illinois and Oregon – shows that many are starting to break ranks.
Lamont said that localities in his state are still free to set mandates at their own discretion. While small, less densely populated, areas of the state will likely lift masks when Connecticut’s mandate ends on February 28. Population centers that are more vulnerable to virus transmission can still choose to keep masks in place.
While some have blamed the sudden shift in blue states to declining poll numbers ahead of this fall’s midterm elections, Lamont says the decision was driven by data, not politics, and called the opinions ‘nonsense.’
‘With omicron the numbers have come down, the metrics are pretty clear we can get rid of these mask mandates and we can do it safely,’ he said.
But it’s undeniable that as cases drop, Americans’ impatience with the pandemic is growing.
A recent Yahoo News/YouGov survey had 46 percent of respondents say the U.S. should ‘learn to live with’ the pandemic, compared to 43 percent who said ‘we need to do more to vaccinate, wear masks and test.’ The same survey showed 40 percent believe the worst of the pandemic is over while just 27 percent fear the worst is yet to come.
A Monmouth University survey taken at the end of January saw a steep 11-point drop in the number of people who were in favor of mask mandates from September, though it remains at 52 percent.
Seven out of every 10 American voters surveyed said ‘it’s time we accept Covid is here to stay and we just need to get on with our lives.’
In total, ten states and Washington D.C. still require masks in school, but there is growing pressure for these final states to lift these mandates. Dr Kavita Patel, an MSNBC contributor who works as a primary care physician and director of policy for the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement in the Obama administration, told Squawk Box Wednesday that experts will soon have to consider lifting them.
‘If you told me there’s a future where we’re wearing masks in perpetuity I’d say that’s ridiculous, the science doesn’t support that if we see that cases are coming down,’ she said.
But Republicans who have been against public health mandates — some from the beginning of the pandemic — were quick to mock the Democrat leaders suddenly rolling back the rules.
‘I’d love to see whatever internal polling went around the Democrat Party last week – it’s certainly no coincidence that Democrat-run states are dropping mandates as fast as they can!,’ Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Okla., told DailyMail.com.
Rep. Lisa McClain, R-Mich., told DailyMail.com: ‘The Democrats continually follow the political science instead of the actual science. I’m thrilled many states are now dropping mask mandates, but it’s too little too late. We’ve known for months that masking has been detrimental to our children.’
‘We’ve known for months that masking has been detrimental to our children. The science hasn’t changed in the last several months, the only change has been the overwhelming uproar over government mandates,’ McClain added.
During the daily White House press briefing on Wednesday, Jen Psaki was asked why Biden has made no noise about his fellow Democrats dropping mandates after months of trading barbs with Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis.
The Sunshine State’s governor has long been a thorn in Biden’s side as one of his most vocal critics, particularly on coronavirus measures. DeSantis has resisted implementing state-wide restrictions of any kind throughout the entire pandemic and in recent months has gone on the offensive with legislation seeking to punish localities looking to impose mask or vaccine rules.
‘Well, I would say there is a distinct difference between standing in the way, which Ron DeSantis did — or Governor DeSantis; I’ll give him his full title — of teachers, school administrators, and others taking steps to protect the students in their school communities. There’s a difference between standing in the way of it, threatening to pull back funding; and allowing for local school districts to make choices, which is what a number of these states are doing,’ Psaki said.
Added pressure is coming from overseas as well. Last month, the UK lifted all pandemic-related restrictions as cases continue to plummet in the nation. America’s greatest foreign ally often precedes the U.S. by a few weeks during the pandemic, and it is rare that the European nation has less-strict Covid guidelines than its peer across the pond.
In the UK, masks in schools, work from home orders, vaccine passports and requirements to test negative before travelling into the country have been lifted. As cases continue to fall, now under 70,000 per day after peaking at 180,000 early last month, some are even clamoring to stop daily reporting of Covid cases and deaths in the country.
Other European countries like Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland have also either lifted restrictions or laid out plans to do so in recent weeks.
Every single state in the U.S. is recording a drop in cases over the past two weeks. The drop offs have been massive as well, with 43 states having had cases slash in half over the past two weeks – and 21 recording a 70 percent fall.
Only weeks ago, the massive falls in cases were almost exclusively on the east coast, as those states were slammed first by Omicron. Now, the case declines have finally found their way out west.
Oklahoma, which was leading the nation in Covid infection rate at one point last month, is now recording the largest two-week case decline in America. The Sooner state has logged a 79 percent drop in cases over the past 14 days.
Washington, like many other states along west coast, was one of the final states to still record an upward trend of cases during the Omicron surge. The state is now also among the leaders in case-decline, recording 75 percent drop over the past two weeks.
Every single state has now dropped below 200 daily cases per every 100,000 residents as well. Alaska is the U.S. leader in infection rate still – with 177 of every 100,000 residents testing positive daily.
Other southern states, like Mississippi (169 cases per 100,000 residents), Tennessee (136), West Virginia (131) and Kentucky (113) are among the eight state recording more than 100 as well. In the northwest, Montana (128), North Dakota (112) and Idaho (105) are also still recording high infection rates.
Virginia is now leading America in Covid deaths despite having a relatively high vaccination rate of 71 percent. The Commonwealth is recording 1.49 deaths per every 100,000 residents daily.
All of the other states recording more than one death per 100,000 residents have struggled to vaccinated its residents. Mississippi (1.37 daily deaths per 100,000 residents; 50 percent vaccination rate), Ohio (1.29; 57), Kansas (1.17; 59), South Carolina (1.13; 55), Arkansas (1.11; 53), Nevada (1.02; 59) and West Virginia (1; 56) make up the rest of the states recording high Covid mortality rate.