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When Should School Mask Mandates Be Lifted?


What are the mask rules in your school right now? Do you think they need to change?

As the surge in coronavirus cases brought by the Omicron variant recedes across the United States, governors in several states have started lifting mask mandates for indoor public spaces and schools. Public health experts disagree on whether these changes are coming too soon, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a clear message last week: “We are not there yet.”

How is this debate playing out in your school? What do you think the criteria should be for easing or eliminating mask requirements?

New York’s governor said on Wednesday that she was ending the state’s indoor masking rules. The governor of Massachusetts announced that face coverings would soon become optional in schools. And by day’s end, the governors of Illinois, Rhode Island and Washington said that they, too, would loosen coronavirus rules.

The moves, which came rapid fire, one after another, mean that many of the Covid-19 restrictions that have divided Americans will soon be eliminated in places where politicians have long championed sweeping virus precautions. But as the Omicron variant loosens its grip, and as polling shows Americans exhausted with the pandemic, leaders in liberal-leaning states are shifting to a new approach, moving toward an engage-at-your-own-risk stance that many conservative areas embraced a year ago.

“Numbers are coming down, and it is time to adapt,” said Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York, a Democrat who said she was letting expire a state requirement that businesses seek proof of vaccination or require masks at all times in indoor public spaces.

The decisions add to the confusion and patchwork nature of what Americans can and cannot do. While some people welcomed them as a relief and part of a return to normal life, others asked whether states were moving too fast at a time when more than 200,000 new infections were being announced each day and when the country was reporting more than 17,000 deaths a week, more than at any other point in the pandemic except last winter.

“It’s time to give our kids a sense of normalcy,” said Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, a Republican, announcing that he would let school mask rules expire at the end of February.

But in California, Barbara Ferrer, the top public health official in Los Angeles County, expressed her concern to elected officials this week: “We should not be lifting the masking mandate when we are reporting thousands and thousands of new cases every day. That doesn’t make sense.”

Even as governors were lifting rules, officials in some cities, counties and school districts indicated that they would keep their own mandates in place, adding new complications to an already confusing array of rules across the country.

That divide was especially stark in California, which is set to end an indoor mask mandate for vaccinated people in most public settings this month, but where counties are allowed to keep their own stricter measures. Health officials in some counties, including Marin, Orange, Sacramento, San Francisco and San Diego, pledged to lift strict local rules when the state does. Other counties — including Los Angeles and Santa Clara — said they would not ease restrictions until rates of vaccination, transmission and infection had improved.

Want more writing prompts? You can find all of our questions in our Student Opinion column. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate them into your classroom.

Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.


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