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As omicron cases fall, so do mask mandates in New York metro area

Democratic governors are increasingly relaxing mask mandates in their states as their infection rates of Covid-19 pull back.

(CN) — The governors of Connecticut, New Jersey and New York all announced this week they are no longer requiring masks in various settings to prevent against coronavirus transmission, responding to the continually decreasing number of Covid-19 cases in the region.

By leaving the decision to mask or not to mask up to individuals and local government, the governors are signaling their eagerness to put aside coronavirus restrictions just as the world will mark two years of pandemic life come March.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul noted Wednesday that she coordinated the adoption of new measures in mid-December as the omicron variant caused numbers of Covid-19 to spike ahead of the holidays.

Now, with the numbers falling just as fast as they rose, the Democratic governor said New York no longer needs her mandate that masks be worn inside businesses across the state. The rule is set to be lifted later this week.

"As we begin a new phase in our response to this pandemic, my top priority is making sure we keep New York safe, open and moving forward," Hochul said in a statement, adding that she will leave mask use inside businesses to local governments and businesses themselves to enforce.

Further creating a patchwork of mask mandates are federal regulations requiring riders of trains and planes keep their mouth and nose covered. Masks will still be required in hospitals, nursing homes and the like.

Unlike New York’s neighboring states, however, Hochul said she will wait before announcing any changes to mandate calling for mask use in the state’s schools. She instead said the state planned to send tests home with students during midwinter break and then look at the state’s Covid-19 numbers before announcing a decision at the beginning of March.

On Monday, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, citing a growing number of vaccinations against Covid-19 and a decline in hospitalizations, said the state would drop the mask mandate for its schools and childcare centers on March 7.

Murphy noted in a statement that the individual school districts can decide themselves whether to keep mask requirements in their classrooms.

“This is a huge step back to normalcy for our kids,” Murphy said Monday, adding the mandate will dissipate around the time the weather tends to thaw a bit and schools have options to ventilate their buildings.

The Democratic governor said the state tried to strike a balance, to avoid being too lax with masks in a way that spread the virus or to go too strict and cause stress and mental health strain.

“We’re not going to manage Covid to zero,” Murphy said. “We have to learn how to live with Covid as we move from a pandemic to the endemic phase of this virus.”

On the same day New Jersey announced the end of its mask mandate in schools, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont lent his approval to a plan to let the mask mandate in the Nutmeg State’s schools expire at the end of February.

The Democratic governor said the time was right to let local school districts decide whether to have teachers and students go masked. The move comes as Lamont’s executive powers to issue emergency orders surrounding the pandemic are slated to expire next week. He has asked the Connecticut Legislature to extend 11 of his pandemic-related executive orders.

Lamont said he believes Covid-19 will be a less deadly disease in the future, and individuals who have been dealing with it for the last two years are better prepared to live with it.

“You're not going to get an all-clear sign,” Lamont said. “There's not going to be a day where they say we have zero infection, yippee, we can get back. We know from previous experience that there'll be additional ripples as time goes.”

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