More students could leave their face masks at home when they head to their bus stops in response to falling Omicron variant cases.
Within hours of each other, Delaware Gov. John Carney and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday that they are ending the mandates that students, school staff and childcare workers wear facial coverings. New Jersey’s current mandate expires March 7, while Delaware’s expires at 11:59 p.m. on March 31.
“We’re in a much better place than we were several weeks ago in the middle of the Omicron surge,” Carney said on Facebook when announcing the change.
Until April 1, Delaware will require students in kindergarten through 12th grade as well as school staff to wear masks on school buses, while masks are recommended for student riders who are 2 years old through pre-kindergarten age. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to require masks be used during public transit, including on school buses.
Students in New Jersey will also have to continue wearing masks for another month. But after the mandate is lifted, school districts and childcare facilities can continue enforcing their own universal masking policies, and schools will be prohibited from banning student or staff use of face masks.
Fourteen states and the District of Columbia continue to mandate mask usage in schools. Florida, Texas, Virginia and Utah prohibit mandatory face masks in schools, but students continue to have the right to wear them if they want. Several other states have also tried to ban mandatory masks but have been hampered by lawsuits.
Meanwhile, California said vaccinated people will no longer need to wear masks in most indoor locations starting Feb. 16, but the state will continue to require masks in schools as well as hospitals, long-term care facilities, and other locations deemed to be at risk.
Back in New Jersey, school districts that end universal masking policies are encouraged to revise their COVID-19 policies to still use masking and other prevention strategies.
The New Jersey Department of Health is expected to release guidelines to help school districts update the policies before March 7.
“I must thank the overwhelming majority of students, parents, administrators, educators, and support staffers who have worn their masks without problem or protest since our schools reopened for in-person learning,” Murphy said in a statement. “Thankfully, we have reached a point where we feel confident that we can take another step toward normalcy for our kids. Given the continued drop in new cases and hospitalizations, projections indicating a continued decline over the coming weeks, and the continued growth of vaccinations for our school-aged population, we believe that we can responsibly end the universal mask mandate.”
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