Home Blues Blue states roll back mask rules – but experts warn it’s too soon | Coronavirus

Blue states roll back mask rules – but experts warn it’s too soon | Coronavirus

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Several US states, many run by Democrats, began rolling back mask mandates this week, a move public health experts warn could set back progress in the fight against Covid.

On Wednesday, Massachusetts, Illinois, New York and Rhode Island joined California, Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Oregon in lifting mask mandates for certain public places.

The wave of easing comes after months of private meetings between heads of state and political discussion groups following the November election, according to reports. “Now it’s time to bring people back to life,” said Sean Maloney, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, tweeted in support of New York suspending its indoor mask or vaccine mandate.

Yet the lifting of the rules has not been universally applauded and comes at a time when the vast majority of the country (99%) is still experiencing heavy transmission of the virus, according to at the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Public polls show coherent Support for mask mandates and other precautions, and experts say the time to relax precautions hasn’t arrived yet — and acting prematurely could prolong that wave.

“In my opinion, it is too early. I feel like we’re anticipating too much,” said Justin Lessler, professor of epidemiology at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. “We are overconfident that things will continue in the direction they have taken.”

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky also recently said that “now is not the time” to drop masks in public, although the agency is would have weigh changes to its mask guidelines.

Many states are lifting mask mandates despite public polls showing support. Photograph: Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

While Covid cases have fallen from Omicron’s record peak, the US is still averaging over 230,000 cases per day – similar to the height of last winter’s surge – and over 2 300 people die from Covid every day, according to at the CDC. As hospitalizations begin to drop, 80% of hospitals are still under “high or extreme stress”.

Treatments, including antivirals and monoclonal antibodies, that prevent Covid from progressing to serious illness and death are still in short supply across the country. Children under 5 are not yet eligible for vaccines, while less than a quarter of children aged 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated.

“We have hundreds of thousands of people who are dying, we have millions who have been hospitalized and we have an unknown number who have long Covid and who will long get Covid as we undo what little mitigation we have,” said said Julia Raifman, assistant professor at the Boston University School of Public Health and creator of the US States Covid-19 Policy Database.

“Saying things are normal prevents us from getting more people vaccinated and helping people wear masks, because transmission actually remains quite high,” Raifman said. “The best way to help people think things are more normal is to reduce the amount of virus with the mitigations we have.”

The failure to define measures on when to abandon or reinstate precautions “starts at the top,” including the CDC and the White House, Raifman said. “The whole pandemic response is mismanaged, and only better leadership can help us come together to better deal with it.”

Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to the President, said the United States leaves the “full-fledged” phase of the pandemic. In September, he said controlling the pandemic meant having fewer than 10,000 cases a day.

“It’s not a declaration of victory but rather an acknowledgment that we can live responsibly with this thing,” noted New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who is also a key leader of the National Governors Association. Governors would have urged Biden to “get away from the pandemic”.

A woman wears a mask while knitting in a park as a nearby man talks on the phone without a mask.
Experts warn that lifting mask mandates too soon could lead to unnecessary cases and deaths. Photo: Seth Wenig/AP

Many states – including Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Oregon, New Jersey and Rhode Island – are also defined to lift school mask mandates. California is considering changing school mask rules, while Illinois and New York will keep theirs for now. The Governor of Pennsylvania survey the school mask rule last month.

Teachers’ unions have joined health experts in call for science-based recommendations to keep educators and students safe and prevent the virus from forcing further school closures caused by labor shortages.

“I fear removing measures just because cases tend to go down,” Lessler said. “At least part of the rate of decline has to do with how little we are doing to try to control transmission, and by stopping these measures – both directly and in the message they send about virus risk – you are slowing that down. -tendency.”

A new variant could also emerge and change the situation yet again, he said. “We have been surprised many times by new variants.”

Lifting measures too soon and slowing the decline in cases can lead to “many unnecessary cases and deaths that you could have avoided just by waiting a few weeks,” Lessler said.

“And if we change what we do significantly, we may not get there, or it may take us longer than expected to get there.”