Federal guidance continues to urge Americans to wear masks indoors in most settings to combat the spread of Covid-19, but most US states have dropped such requirements, leaving only a handful of states with broad mandates in place as the pandemic enters its third year.
Halfway through February, only four states and Washington DC require masks for most indoor settings, though some of those mandates are set to expire in coming weeks if infections and hospitalizations trend downward.
Since January, roughly half of US states have dropped or rolled back masking requirements.
California Governor Gavin Newsom let the state’s indoor mask mandate for vaccinated people expire on 15 February, though the requirements will remain in place for schoolchildren, and Los Angeles County will continue to require masks in most indoor settings and at large outdoor events.
Masks are still required on public transit under federal requirements, and many states have maintained mask mandates in hospitals, government buildings, jails and other facilities, or have kept masking rules in place for people who are not vaccinated.
State-level rules are also often at odds with more stringent requirements set by counties and cities, reflecting the nation’s patchwork public health response, an increasingly volatile politicization of public health, and evolving infection trends in different parts of the country.
Many Republican governors and state legislators have also tried to ban local governments from implementing mask requirements.
As states and local governments begin to ease remaining restrictions during the pandemic, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has continued to urge nearly all Americans to wear masks regardless of vaccination status.
CDC guidance suggests masks should be worn in places where infections are higher than a rate of 50 per 100,000, or with a positivity rate above 8 per cent.
That would impact roughly 97 per cent of the US, as of 15 February.
The latest wave of relaxed masking rules has preempted guidance from federal health officials and the White House, which has suggested that dropping masks may be premature against an unpredictable virus.
Disabled people and people with compromised immune systems have also warned against losing a crucial barrier of protection, now putting them at greater risk.
“Our hospitalizations are still high, our death rates are still high,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a press briefing last week. “As we work toward that and as we are encouraged by the current trends, we are not there yet.”
Hawaii, Oregon, New Mexico, Illinois, Washington and Washington DC have kept most mask requirements in place, though some of those rules are likely to expire within the next several weeks.
Illinois Governor JB Pritzker will lift the state’s mandate at the end of February if hospitalizations decline. New Mexico, Oregon and Washington DC also are expected to drop requirements in March.
Most major cities and US tourism hubs also require people entering restaurants and bars to show proof of vaccination. Businesses across the US, whether under government mandate or not, have also implemented their own mask and vaccine policies.