New York and Illinois indoor mask rules: Governors expected to announce end or rollback of certain mandates, reports say

In New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul will end the state’s strict rules for businesses on Wednesday, three people briefed on the decision told The New York Times.

That mandate requires businesses to ask customers for proof of vaccination or for them to wear masks indoors, except when eating or drinking.

In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker will likely announce Wednesday a path for ending that state’s indoor mask mandate in most public places — though his administration intends to keep mask rules for schools — CNN affiliate WLS, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun Times reported.

CNN has reached out to the offices of both Democratic governors for comments about their plans.

The reports come as the Omicron wave that swept across the US in the last few months has started to recede, prompting many state officials to pull back on Covid-19 mitigation measures.

In New York on Tuesday, Hochul said she planned to make an announcement Wednesday regarding mask mandates for businesses, one day before it was set to expire across the state.

Hochul issued the mask-or-vaccine requirement for all indoor businesses in December 2021 as the Omicron variant caused a large increase in Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. That wave of new cases peaked about a month ago and has since receded.
People work out at a gym in Manhattan, New York City, on May 19, 2021.

The vaccination or mask requirement for businesses was put in place “when we first saw the early signs of this Omicron could be wildly contagious,” she said.

“It certainly was, and so we put in some protections in place to help our workplaces and help employees and customers,” she said.

Two weeks ago, a judge struck down the mandate, saying the Department of Health did not have the authority to put it in place, but an appeals court judge allowed it to stay in effect.
Other states have started lifting their mask mandates. Oregon’s health department announced the state will remove general mask requirements for indoor public places no later than March 31. School mask mandates will also be lifted March 31, according to CNN affiliate KATU-TV.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state’s indoor mask requirement will expire February 15, though unvaccinated people will still need to wear masks indoors.

Pritzker has teased changes to indoor mask policy

Pritzker, the Illinois governor, has teased changes to his state’s indoor mask policy in the past few days.

“I think I’ve said over the last few press conferences that I really believe that we ought to be looking seriously at how to ratchet that back. I think we’re going to be making announcements very soon about that,” Pritzker said at an unrelated news conference Tuesday, in response to reporters asking about the mandate.

At a Monday news conference, Pritzker addressed a circuit judge’s temporary restraining order that blocked schools from enforcing portions of his school-related Covid-19 itigation policies, saying he asked the state’s attorney general to work to get the restraining order overturned.

Hochul met with educators about Covid-19 protocols

In New York, Hochul earlier this week met with teachers, school superintendents and parents to thank them for keeping schools safe and open — and to discuss how to continue to “smartly” protect against Covid-19.

It is unclear at this point if school mask mandates will be addressed in Hochul’s announcement Wednesday. The statewide school mask mandate is set to expire February 21.

In a statement released after the meeting, New York State School Boards Association Executive Director Robert S. Schneider summed up the challenge of determining Covid-19 protocols in schools.

“Like everyone, our members are ready to get past this pandemic and return to life as normal, and they want to do so in a way that keeps all of our students, teachers, employees and their families safe. The governor, like school board members, must balance many different concerns and ultimately decide based on what’s best for our students.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul meets virtually with leadership from education groups including school superintendents, principals, school boards, and parent teacher associations.
Democratic governors in New Jersey, Delaware and Connecticut announced that school mask mandates will be lifted in the coming weeks. The governors cited the declines in Covid-19 case counts, hospitalizations, test positivity rates and rates of transmission in making their decision.

In Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont said he recommends ending the statewide mask mandate in schools and childcare centers effective February 28, leaving decisions on mask requirements in schools to officials at the local level.

In Delaware, Gov. John Carney said that public and private K-12 mask mandates will expire March 31, and in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy said the state’s universal mask mandate for schools and child-care settings will lift March 7.

As states plan to lift school mask mandates, CDC remains vague on updating its guidance

Lifting of school mask mandates goes against guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency has not provided states a road map for how to transition from the emergency phase of Covid-19 into the “new normal,” so these states have taken steps on their own.

“We’ve adhered overwhelmingly with the CDC guidance. The reason why we’re making this step today is our reality in New Jersey,” Murphy told CNN on Monday. “We are now in a dramatically different place than the norm right now across the country, which is why we feel like we can decouple and take this step.”

Asked about recent decisions by neighboring states — namely New Jersey — to set a timeline to end the school mask mandates, Hochul said “we are going to assess our situation here in New York.”

“What I understand Gov. Murphy was talking about is a situation one month from now,” she said. “So I’m going to continue to head in that direction … We’re hoping to get to that, I’ve said that for weeks, that is our goal, but I’m going to continue looking at the metrics.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly characterized New York’s mask mandate. It requires businesses to ask customers for proof of vaccination or for them to wear masks indoors, not both.

CNN’s Kristinia Sgueglia, Chris Boyette and Jacqueline Howard contributed to this report.

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