Mask mandates have disappeared rapidly in the last few weeks in the United States as Omicron cases have receded. But some school districts, cities and one state are holding out, and some teachers, parents and students fear that dropping mask mandates in schools is premature.
As of Monday, Hawaii remains the only U.S. state that is not lifting its statewide indoor mask mandate. About a third of the school districts in the United States still require masks, according to the school tracking site Burbio, which reports that from Jan. 7 through Monday, the number of school districts that ended mask mandates had nearly doubled.
Even Puerto Rico, one of the country’s last holdouts, said on Monday that it would end its mask mandate, including for schools.
As many public health authorities guide Americans to a new maskless era, some in the country have welcomed the new guidelines, while others worry that the moves are premature. More than a third of the country was not fully vaccinated against the coronavirus as of Monday, according to a New York Times database.
In recent weeks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested that most Americans do not need to wear a mask, leading more officials to eliminate mask requirements.
Several school districts have their own mask mandates, independent of their cities or states. Public schools in Boston, Washington and Seattle continue to require masks at school, even though officials in most of those cities have ended indoor mask rules.
Robin Ostrov of Buffalo was one of more than 1,000 parents from across the United States who wrote to The Times recently about anxiety over making masks optional in schools. “I’m feeling incredible angst and stress over it,” she wrote. “Our county cases are still in the medium orange level. I realize that masks should go away at some point, but to lift them prematurely doesn’t make sense.”
Experts have pointed out that while the risk Covid poses to children is real, it is now about the same as the risk of the flu. And many doctors cite the mental health strain that children have faced during the pandemic and the educational value of seeing full faces.
Major cities, including Dallas, Houston and Philadelphia, have made masks at school optional or are set to do so soon. In Los Angeles County, school districts will set their own rules about masks starting on Friday, when the county’s mask requirement ends. But the City of Los Angeles, the country’s second-largest district, will continue to require masks at its schools.
The mask mandate in Chicago, home to the third-largest U.S. school district, is set to end on Monday.
This week in New York City, Lorraine Harrigan, 36, told her daughter, Londyn Carroway, a first grader in Brooklyn, to keep her mask on. “I feel like they’re rushing too fast to remove the mask,” Ms. Harrigan said.
Dylan DeGaeta, a fifth-grader in the Tottenville section of Staten Island, said he felt as if he were breaking the rules, because he had become so used to wearing a mask.
“I felt like I was doing something wrong,” he said.