Picture
Credit…Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times

Connecticut will allow students and staff to stop wearing masks in schools no later than Feb. 28, after Governor Ned Lamont recommended Monday that the statewide mask mandate end to this date.

His remarks came after a decision by New Jersey officials earlier Monday to lift that state’s mask mandate for schools.

“Now is the time for us to say that the statewide mask mandate is no longer on our level,” Governor Lamont said. “Every mayor, every superintendent can make that call themselves. I recommend the date of February 28.

Connecticut’s mask mandate for schools will expire next Tuesday unless the legislature agrees to expand the governor’s emergency pandemic powers. One of those powers allows officials from the ministries of education and public health to decide rules around masks.

Governor Lamont asked the legislature last month to extend some of the orders he issued using his emergency powers, but no decision has been made.

If the legislature expands the powers, he said, “we would have the discretion to make the change that we’re talking about, which ends the mask mandate in schools and our daycares.”

The governor has decided not to let the term end next week so officials can continue to monitor cases in case another spike in cases occurs. He also wanted the change to happen after the winter break, so that pupils would have a ‘fresh start’ and schools could better prepare.

Unvaccinated people in Connecticut are currently required to wear masks in all indoor public spaces, while vaccinated people are required to wear them in certain indoor settings, such as schools and hospitals.

The rate for fully vaccinated Connecticut residents ages 5 to 11 is 34% and 74% for those ages 12 to 17, according to a New York Times database. The daily average of new virus cases has fallen by 70% in the past two weeks, according to the database, while the daily average of hospitalizations has fallen by 50%. The daily average of deaths fell by 40% during the same period.

New Jersey’s coronavirus measures have also eased, prompting Gov. Philip D. Murphy to announce Monday that he would eliminate the state’s mask mandate for students and school employees. The new policy will go into effect the second week of March, nearly two years after New Jersey became one of the epicentres of the pandemic.

New York officials, meanwhile, plan to continue monitoring both the number of coronavirus cases and vaccination rates for young residents.

Governor Kathy Hochul said last week that officials were “working” to remove mask mandates from schools, but vaccination rates for young children needed to increase before that happened.

“The more children we have immunized, the safer they will be when they go to school,” Governor Hochul said. “We’re just not there yet.”

In court appearance Monday in Kingston, NY, she said she was still monitoring the situation and noted that New Jersey’s warrant would not be lifted for a month.

“I gather data,” Governor Hochul said. “We are going in a very, very good direction.”

The rate for fully immunized New York residents ages 5-11 is 30%; this age group became eligible to receive a Covid-19 vaccine in early November. That rate for children ages 12 to 17 is 70%, according to federal data.

A spokesperson for the New York City Department of Education said Monday that the city’s mask mandate for schools, which is separate from the state requirement, remains unchanged. The city will decide what to do with its tenure based on what happens at the state level, the spokesperson said.

As of Sunday, the daily average of new virus cases in New York had dropped 69% statewide over a 14-day period, according to a New York Times database. Hospitalizations had fallen by 42% and deaths by 39% during the same period.

The New York statewide rule requiring masks or proof of full vaccination for all indoor public places is currently set to expire on Thursday. The state has a separate mask mandate for schools, which was put in place last August, before the mask or vaccination ordinance was issued. That term expires Feb. 21, but it is expected to be renewed, according to a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health.

In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf last month rescinded his state’s mask mandate for schools.

Delaware Governor John Carney on Monday extended his state’s school mask mandate to remain in effect until March 31, saying it would give parents time to get young children vaccinated. At the same time, Governor Carney announced that the state’s mask mandate for businesses and workplaces will expire on Friday.

Masks protect both the wearer from infection and those nearby from infection. People who said they always wear a mask indoors in public were less likely to test positive for the virus, according to a report released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Two CDC studies from September found that masks help prevent transmission at school. The agency recommends that children 2 and older and all adults wear masks at school and daycare.

But many prominent doctors have begun to question the value of requiring students to wear masks as new virus cases decline across the country. They cite the mental health strain children have faced during the pandemic and the educational value of seeing full faces.

Luis Ferré-Sadurni, Sharon Otterman, Grace Ashford, Joseph Goldstein and Patrick J. Lyons contributed report.