Home Technology States and stores end mask mandates, as CDC weighs changing its advice

States and stores end mask mandates, as CDC weighs changing its advice



A dramatic decline in COVID-19 cases has states reconsidering mask mandates.

Sarah Tew/CNET

For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

On Monday, five states — California, Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Oregon — announced that they would be ending mask mandates for indoor public spaces, schools or both. Throughout the week, governors in five more states — New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nevada and Rhode Island — followed suit, declaring the end of required masks immediately or in the near future.

And on Friday, the Wall St. Journal reported that Walmart will no longer require vaccinated employees to wear masks in stores. The retail giant was one of the first to enact mask mandates for employees back in April 2020.

The omicron variant, which now accounts for nearly 100% of all COVID-19 cases in the US, prompted some states and cities to reinstitute mask mandates during the winter holiday season. As COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations drop sharply, those local mandates are quickly ending.

The recent state decisions stand in contrast to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which continues to recommend everyone wear a face mask in crowded areas, regardless of vaccination status. In a briefing Wednesday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky reiterated, “We continue to recommend masking in areas of high and substantial transmission — that’s much of the country right now — in public indoor settings.”

However, Politico reported Wednesday that the CDC is considering changing its stance on indoor masking, “according to four people familiar with the matter.” The agency may shift the guidelines for mandating masks to be based on local hospitalization data, instead of the current metric of COVID-19 cases.

For more, get the latest on COVID-19 boosters, learn whether we’ll need a fourth shot and consider what the “new normal” might look like after COVID-19.

Which states are ending mask rules?

California’s indoor masking requirements for vaccinated people are set to expire on Feb. 15. On Monday on Twitter, Governor Gavin Newsom confirmed that the mandate would indeed end next Tuesday. Unvaccinated people will still be required to wear masks indoors. Also on Monday, Delaware Governor John Carney announced that the state’s universal mask requirement will end Feb. 11 and that the school mask requirement will end March 31.

On Wednesday, New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced that state is lifting its mask mandates for everyone starting Feb. 10. Patrons of indoor business were previously required to be vaccinated or wear masks indoors. Cities, counties and individual businesses can still opt in to the mask-or-vaccine requirement, but it’s no longer required by state law.

Illinois plans to end its statewide indoor mask mandate on Feb. 28, Governor Bill Pritzer declared Wednesday. Pritzker noted that the state has seen its sharpest drop in hospitalizations since the pandemic began. Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike clarified, “While masks will no longer be required in most indoor locations beginning February 28, they are still recommended.”

Rhode Island also announced an immediate end to mask-or-vaccine requirements for indoor spaces on Wednesday, while Oregon declared an end to masking requirements “no later than March 31.” On Thursday, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak announced that the state’s mask mandate was over, effective immediately.

Also this week, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island and Connecticut all announced ends to their states’ school masking requirements. The four states join Delaware in declaring end dates for masks in public schools. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia currently have mask requirements for schools, though several phase out depending on local COVID rates.

Which states currently require masks?

With mandates in Delaware, Nevada and New York ending this week, nine US states and territories currently require masks in indoor settings like restaurants, bars and gyms:

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • New Mexico
  • Oregon 
  • Puerto Rico
  • Washington

As noted above, Illinois’ statewide mask rules end Feb. 28, and Oregon’s mandate ends March 31. Washington lifted its outdoor mask requirement this week, but rules for indoor and school masking still remain.

Connecticut requires masks indoors only for unvaccinated people. As of Feb. 15, California will join Connecticut in only requiring that unvaccinated people mask indoors.

The AARP has an excellent state-by-state rundown of mask mandates across the US.

What is the federal mask mandate?

In December, the Biden administration extended its mask mandate for those traveling by trains, buses and airplanes due to concerns around the new omicron variant. Originally intended to expire Jan. 18, the measure is now set to end March 18. The Biden administration has not said yet if it plans to extend the federal mask mandate.

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What does the CDC recommend about masking?

The current CDC guidance for mask wearing says that everyone age 2 years and older, vaccinated and unvaccinated, should continue wearing masks indoors when in public places, especially if in a high COVID-19 transmission area, to help prevent spreading the disease to others. 

The CDC also says that people outdoors generally do not need to wear masks, unless they are in extended close contact with other people.

In May 2021, the CDC stated that vaccinated people did not need to wear masks anywhere, but reversed course in July when the delta variant of COVID-19 created large numbers of infections, hospitalizations and deaths.


The CDC is sticking with its mask recommendation for vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What is the World Health Organization’s position on masks?

The World Health Organization currently recommends masks strongly to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The organization’s guidance is clear in its recommendation: “Where there is community or cluster transmission of SARS-CoV-2, irrespective of vaccination status or history of prior infection, wearing a well-fitting mask that covers the nose and mouth is recommended for the public when interacting with individuals who are not members of their household.”

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the WHO originally said that there was not enough evidence to support the general public wearing masks and that masks should be reserved for health care workers and those infected with COVID-19. The group changed its position in July 2020, recommending masks for everyone to reduce infections and spread of the virus.

For more information, here’s what you need to know about “long COVID” and how it’s treated. Also, read up on these COVID-19 vaccine side effects and important dos and don’ts of getting your COVID-19 vaccine.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.


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