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This week’s announcements from several governors about easing COVID-19 mask mandates are “probably premature, but it’s a tough call,” President Joe Biden said on Thursday.
He said the pandemic has had a “profound impact on the psyche of the American people” and called the changing guidelines “confusing.”
“It’s worrisome to people. They’re trying to figure it out,” Biden said during an NBC News broadcast.
“But what I’ve tried to do, I’ve tried to make sure we have all the vaccines needed, all the boosters needed, all the masks needed, all the protection that’s needed,” he said.
The Biden administration is facing pressure to ease COVID-19 restrictions as a number of Democratic-led states have dropped mask mandates or set plans in motion to lift mask rules in schools in coming weeks, according to Bloomberg News. But the CDC continues to recommend masks in most indoor settings in areas with “substantial or high coronavirus transmission,” which still covers most of the U.S.
The latest updates have created a predicament for Biden, who has pledged to follow the advice of federal health officials and the CDC.
“I’ve committed that I would follow the science as put forward by the CDC and the federal people,” he told NBC News.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul lifted her state’s mask mandate that was set to expire this week but kept the requirement for schools. California and Illinois made similar announcements, lifting mask rules for public spaces but keeping them in place for schools, public transportation, and health care settings.
Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, and Oregon also announced plans to end mask mandates in schools throughout February and March.
On Thursday, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced that face coverings were no longer required in most places, “effective immediately,” according to a statement from the governor’s office. Mask rules in schools remained in place until the end of the day.
The Nevada Gaming Control Board followed Sisolak’s announcement with an order that lifted mask rules for casinos “unless a local jurisdiction still imposes such a requirement,” according to The Associated Press. Las Vegas also followed the announcement with a statement that lifted masks for teachers and students on campuses but kept the requirement for school buses.
Sisolak said masks should still be worn in hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities, as well on as airplanes and buses. Masks are no longer mandatory in jails and other correctional facilities.
“Some people think we were ready long ago, some people think we’re not ready yet,” he told reporters. “I feel now is the appropriate time to move forward.”
During their announcements this week, governors have pointed to the steep declines in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in their states, the AP reported. Cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are still high, compared to other points in the pandemic, though governors have said this week that it’s time to move back toward a sense of normalcy.
Biden told NBC News on Thursday that there is tremendous political pressure to move beyond current COVID-19 restrictions. Officials in his administration began a “listening tour” in early January to find a strategy for the next stage of the pandemic, including input from medical experts, governors, and state and local public health officials.
“It’s hard to say whether they are wrong,” Biden said about the governors’ recent announcements. “The science is saying now that masks work, masks make a difference, and there’s a relationship.”
NBC News: “White House plans for pandemic’s next stage amid internal debate.”
Bloomberg News: “Biden Says Easing of Mask Rules by Governors Is ‘a Tough Call.'”
The Associated Press: “Nevada, casinos rescind mask mandates effective immediately.”
Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak: “Governor Sisolak lifts mask mandate in Nevada.”