Biden says getting rid of masks is 'probably premature' but a 'tough call'

Biden says getting rid of masks is ‘probably premature’ but a ‘tough call’

President Joe Biden said in a new interview Thursday it was probably ‘premature’ to lift indoor mask mandates – as a growing list of Democratic governors are moving to do just that amid plummeting coronavirus infection levels. 

Biden weighed in during an interview with NBC News, after the moves in Democratic-run states have put pressure on the White House.  

‘I’ve committed that I would follow the science as put forward by the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and federal people and I think it’s probably premature, but it’s, you know, it’s a tough call,’ he told NBC’s Lester Holt in a sit-down interview while doing an event in Virginia. 

He also commented on masking in schools, a controversial topic in Virginia and other states.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki noted at her Wednesday briefing that CDC continues to recommend masking during indoor congregate settings for areas where transmission is high – which currently includes most of the country. 

President Joe Biden spoke about lifting indoor mask mandates, telling NBC on Thursday: 'I think it's probably premature, but it's, you know, it's a tough call'

President Joe Biden spoke about lifting indoor mask mandates, telling NBC on Thursday: ‘I think it’s probably premature, but it’s, you know, it’s a tough call’

‘When I got in office only 46 percent of schools were opened, now 98 percent of them are open and they’re wearing masks,’ Biden said. 

‘What’s happening is every day that goes by children are more protected. We’re now on the verge of being able to have shots for children under the age of seven and young children and and so the more protection they have, probably you’re going to see less and less requirement to have the mask,’ he said.

State and local officials are driving decisions on school masking, although the American Rescue Plan has provided funds for safety improvements and testing. Some academics have weighed in with cautions about the social and developmental impacts of long-term masking. 

U.S. covid infections are dropping as the nation works its way through the omicron surge, although hospitalizations are still high, as are death rates, which stood at 2,300 based on a seven-day moving average Thursday.

The seven-day daily average of infections was about 247,000 cases per day Wednesday – down 44 percent from a week ago.

Nevada became the latest blue state to drop indoor mask mandates on Thursday, leaving President Joe Biden increasingly isolated in insisting that tough COVID-19 restrictions stay in place.

The White House says it is following the lead of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

But with cases falling 43 percent across the nation in the past week as the Omicron surge fades, it puts Biden out of step with Americans who say they are ready to try to live with the virus and with allies, such as the United Kingdom, where Prime Minister Boris Johnston on Wednesday announced plans to lift all restrictions. 

Gov. Steve Sisolak of Nevada became the latest to lift a statewide mask mandate after outlining how the number of hospitalizations had dropped from their peak.

‘Given all of these updates, and the tools that we now have, now is the appropriate time for me to announce that Nevada will rescind mask mandates effective immediately,’ he told news conference conducted via Zoom.

‘Masks will no longer be required in public places.’

However, he added that people would still be required to wear masks in certain places, such as healthcare facilities. 

His announcement came after eight Democrat-run states in recent days either lifted their mandates or set plans to do so in the coming weeks. 

Biden says getting rid of masks is 'probably premature' but a 'tough call'

‘Given all of these updates, and the tools that we now have, now is the appropriate time for me to announce that Nevada will rescind mask mandates effective immediately,’ said Gov. Steve Sisolak during news conference conducted via Zoom

Covid cases are dropping over the past two weeks in all 50 states, and northeastern states like Connecticut and New York in particular are posting massive falls of around 70% each

Covid cases are dropping over the past two weeks in all 50 states, and northeastern states like Connecticut and New York in particular are posting massive falls of around 70% each

Gov Ned Lamont (pictured), of Connecticut, is among four northeastern governors that set dates to lift mask mandates in school this week. He said it was a joint decision among a coalition of governors President Joe Biden's health officials are reportedly consulting with outside experts to create a playbook for the next phase of the pandemic

Gov Ned Lamont (left) is among four northeastern governors that set dates to lift mask mandates in school this week. He said it was a joint decision among a coalition of governors. President Biden is now facing mounting pressure to roll back COVID restrictions with growing support from Americans to learn to live with the virus 

How school mask mandates vary state-by-state

School mask mandates, like other pandemic restrictions, vary by state.

School mask mandates are in effect in California, DC, Hawaii, Illinois, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Washington.  

Last month, Massachusetts extended its mandate through February. It remains unclear if the mandate will be extended again. 

New York Gov. Hochul announced February 9 that she will reevaluate the school mask mandate in March.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced February 7 that his state’s mandate will be lifted on March 7.

Delaware Gov. John Carney made a similar announcement February 7, saying the state’s school mask mandate will lift March 31. He also said the general statewide indoor masks order will end on February 11.

Connecticut is set to end its statewide mask mandate on February 28.

Oregon will lift its statewide mask mandate on March 31. 

Maryland, which still has a school mask mandate in effect, now allows local districts to remove masks if 80 percent of students and staff at a single school are fully vaccinated or 80 percent of the district’s community population is fully vaccinated. 

If neither of the vaccination thresholds are met, a local district can also choose to lift universal masking when the county or jurisdiction has reached 14 days of moderate or low transmission of COVID-19. 

Louisiana and Pennsylvania have lifted their statewide school mandates.

Seven states – Arizona, Florida, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Utah – currently has legislation in effect banning school mask mandates. 

Updated: Feb. 9, 2022 

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont revealed on Thursday that East Coast governors had decided to act together. 

‘We worked on this together as governors throughout the region. We thought this is a good time,’ Lamont told CNBC’s Squawk Box. 

The nearby states of Delaware, Massachusetts and New Jersey announced they were lifting mask mandates in schools at the same time Connecticut did.  

Lamont noted that cases were going down in his state – down 70 percent over the past two weeks – and in the states of his peers. 

Cases in nearby New Jersey, Massachusetts and Delaware also decreased 71 percent.

COVID cases are down nationwide as well, with all 50 states recording declining cases over the past two weeks. The U.S. is recording 223,417 infections daily, a 43 percent drop from 394,741 cases per day this time last week.

‘Our infection rates are back to low, hospitalizations are way down,’ Lamont said. ‘Most importantly people have the ability to keep themselves safe now.’ 

He notes that vaccines and booster shots are widely available at this point, and there are little barriers to getting the shot. These northeastern states are among the most vaccinated in the country as well – with more than 70 percent of residents fully vaccinated in each. 

The moves come as Johnson, in the U.K., piled on pressure by making his nation the first developed country to move towards scrapping all COVID restrictions.

‘Provided the current encouraging trends in the data continue, it is my expectation that we will be able to end the last domestic restrictions — including the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive — a full month early,’ he said on Wednesday. 

The restrictions were due to expire on March 24, suggesting they could now end entirely within two weeks. 

The White House is standing firm for now. 

On Wednesday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki urged Americans to follow CDC guidelines.

‘There are states that have rolled back their mask guidelines, that have given more flexibility to communities – they’re different, it’s not uniform, what every state has done – and certainly we continue to advise and recommend abiding by public health guidelines,’ she said.

Biden says getting rid of masks is 'probably premature' but a 'tough call'

And New York is a notable straggler among blue states. While Gov Kathy Hochul allowed for her state’s overall mask mandate to expire on Wednesday, she notably kept the mandates in-place in schools, breaking ranks from her peers. 

It’s a controversial move for a governor facing her first election cycle this year, as Hochul readies to defend the seat she ascended to after the fall of disgraces ex-Governor Andrew Cuomo from a competitive crop of Democratic hopefuls. 

Empire State Republicans at the US Capitol sent Hochul a letter on Tuesday urging her to drop the school mask mandate in keeping with her colleagues in the immediate area.

‘We have heard from countless families throughout our districts expressing their concerns with the mandate, and how it has negatively impacted their child’s experience in the classroom. The time is now to put an end to this unlawful mandate and to allow our children to get back to being just that, children.’ 

‘In light of the announcements by the Governors of New Jersey, Connecticut, and Delaware, we write today to urge you to immediately rescind the onerous and unconstitutional mask mandate in New York State’s schools,’ read a letter signed by eight members of the US House of Representatives from New York.

It was reported on Wednesday that the White House is meeting with a broad range of health experts both inside and outside the government to revamp the administration’s virus playbook.

Biden is hoping to transition to a ‘new normal’ in the next phase where Covid infections are dropping but the threat of a new variant still looms while the country is fresh off the chaos caused by the Omicron strain, the New York Times reported.

But the CDC has so far been hesitant the revise guidance. The agency still recommends that all children mask in schools, and still imposes mask mandates on planes and trains. 

‘Our hospitalizations are still high, our death rates are still high. So, as we work toward that and as we are encouraged by the current trends, we are not there yet,’ CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a White House Covid team press conference on Wednesday.

‘We owe it to our children to make sure that they can safely stay in school. Right now, that includes masking. We’ve seen outbreaks that have occurred in communities where students were not masked in schools and had to close.’ 

Biden says getting rid of masks is 'probably premature' but a 'tough call'

State and county governments still have discretion when it comes to local policy, though. Blue states would usually follow CDC guidance, but the recent lifting in mask mandates in these states – which also include California, Illinois and Oregon – shows that many are starting to break ranks.

Lamont said that localities in his state are still free to set mandates at their own discretion. While small, less densely populated, areas of the state will likely lift masks when Connecticut’s mandate ends on February 28. Population centers that are more vulnerable to virus transmission can still choose to keep masks in place.

While some have blamed the sudden shift in blue states to declining poll numbers ahead of this fall’s midterm elections, Lamont says the decision was driven by data, not politics, and called the opinions ‘nonsense.’

‘With omicron the numbers have come down, the metrics are pretty clear we can get rid of these mask mandates and we can do it safely,’ he said.

But it’s undeniable that as cases drop, Americans’ impatience with the pandemic is growing.  

A recent Yahoo News/YouGov survey had 46 percent of respondents say the U.S. should ‘learn to live with’ the pandemic, compared to 43 percent who said ‘we need to do more to vaccinate, wear masks and test.’ The same survey showed 40 percent believe the worst of the pandemic is over while just 27 percent fear the worst is yet to come.

A Monmouth University survey taken at the end of January saw a steep 11-point drop in the number of people who were in favor of mask mandates from September, though it remains at 52 percent.

Seven out of every 10 American voters surveyed said ‘it’s time we accept Covid is here to stay and we just need to get on with our lives.’ 

Biden says getting rid of masks is 'probably premature' but a 'tough call'

And a new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll shows only 37 per cent of Americans name the coronavirus as one of their top five priorities in 2022. At the same time last year, 53 per cent of respondents named the COVID-19 pandemic in the open-ended question. 

In total, ten states and Washington D.C. still require masks in school, but there is growing pressure for these final states to lift these mandates. Dr Kavita Patel, an MSNBC contributor who works as a primary care physician and director of policy for the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement in the Obama administration, told Squawk Box Wednesday that experts will soon have to consider lifting them.

‘If you told me there’s a future where we’re wearing masks in perpetuity I’d say that’s ridiculous, the science doesn’t support that if we see that cases are coming down,’ she said.

But Republicans who have been against public health mandates — some from the beginning of the pandemic — were quick to mock the Democrat leaders suddenly rolling back the rules.  

‘It’s not the science, I promise you. It’s the political winds. Democrats are seeing that the American people are fed up, they’ve been fed up. Now they’re starting to see how much damage that’s going to cause them, likely, in November,’ Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, said in an interview with KTSA radio in San Antonio Wednesday morning. 

‘I’d love to see whatever internal polling went around the Democrat Party last week – it’s certainly no coincidence that Democrat-run states are dropping mandates as fast as they can!,’ Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Okla., told DailyMail.com. 

 Rep. Lisa McClain, R-Mich., told DailyMail.com: ‘The Democrats continually follow the political science instead of the actual science. I’m thrilled many states are now dropping mask mandates, but it’s too little too late. We’ve known for months that masking has been detrimental to our children.’

‘We’ve known for months that masking has been detrimental to our children. The science hasn’t changed in the last several months, the only change has been the overwhelming uproar over government mandates,’ McClain added.  

During the daily White House press briefing on Wednesday, Jen Psaki was asked why Biden has made no noise about his fellow Democrats dropping mandates after months of trading barbs with Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis. 

The Sunshine State’s governor has long been a thorn in Biden’s side as one of his most vocal critics, particularly on coronavirus measures. DeSantis has resisted implementing state-wide restrictions of any kind throughout the entire pandemic and in recent months has gone on the offensive with legislation seeking to punish localities looking to impose mask or vaccine rules. 

‘Well, I would say there is a distinct difference between standing in the way, which Ron DeSantis did — or Governor DeSantis; I’ll give him his full title — of teachers, school administrators, and others taking steps to protect the students in their school communities. There’s a difference between standing in the way of it, threatening to pull back funding; and allowing for local school districts to make choices, which is what a number of these states are doing,’ Psaki said. 

Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., predicted the mandates would still cost Democrats come midterms.  

‘Democrats forced masks on kids for two years and now they’re hoping that the rest of America will suddenly forget. The ‘science’ is the same as it’s always been, mask mandates don’t work,’ he said.

‘Democrats valued their political narrative more than children’s wellbeing. Ironically, it will cost Democrats politically now, and they deserve it.’  

Added pressure is coming from overseas as well. Last month, the UK lifted all pandemic-related restrictions as cases continue to plummet in the nation. America’s greatest foreign ally often precedes the U.S. by a few weeks during the pandemic, and it is rare that the European nation has less-strict Covid guidelines than its peer across the pond.

In the UK, masks in schools, work from home orders, vaccine passports and requirements to test negative before travelling into the country have been lifted. As cases continue to fall, now under 70,000 per day after peaking at 180,000 early last month, some are even clamoring to stop daily reporting of Covid cases and deaths in the country.

Other European countries like Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland have also either lifted restrictions or laid out plans to do so in recent weeks.

Biden says getting rid of masks is 'probably premature' but a 'tough call' Biden says getting rid of masks is 'probably premature' but a 'tough call'

Every single state in the U.S. is recording a drop in cases over the past two weeks. The drop offs have been massive as well, with 43 states having had cases slash in half over the past two weeks – and 21 recording a 70 percent fall.

Only weeks ago, the massive falls in cases were almost exclusively on the east coast, as those states were slammed first by Omicron. Now, the case declines have finally found their way out west.

Oklahoma, which was leading the nation in Covid infection rate at one point last month, is now recording the largest two-week case decline in America. The Sooner state has logged a 79 percent drop in cases over the past 14 days.

Washington, like many other states along west coast, was one of the final states to still record an upward trend of cases during the Omicron surge. The state is now also among the leaders in case-decline, recording 75 percent drop over the past two weeks.

Biden says getting rid of masks is 'probably premature' but a 'tough call' Biden says getting rid of masks is 'probably premature' but a 'tough call'

Every single state has now dropped below 200 daily cases per every 100,000 residents as well. Alaska is the U.S. leader in infection rate still – with 177 of every 100,000 residents testing positive daily.

Other southern states, like Mississippi (169 cases per 100,000 residents), Tennessee (136), West Virginia (131) and Kentucky (113) are among the eight state recording more than 100 as well. In the northwest, Montana (128), North Dakota (112) and Idaho (105) are also still recording high infection rates.

Virginia is now leading America in Covid deaths despite having a relatively high vaccination rate of 71 percent. The Commonwealth is recording 1.49 deaths per every 100,000 residents daily. 

All of the other states recording more than one death per 100,000 residents have struggled to vaccinated its residents. Mississippi (1.37 daily deaths per 100,000 residents; 50 percent vaccination rate), Ohio (1.29; 57), Kansas (1.17; 59), South Carolina (1.13; 55), Arkansas (1.11; 53), Nevada (1.02; 59) and West Virginia (1; 56) make up the rest of the states recording high Covid mortality rate.

Biden says getting rid of masks is 'probably premature' but a 'tough call'

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