CT, NJ move to end school mask mandates

John Moore/Getty Images
Teacher Elizabeth DeSantis, wearing a mask and face shield, helps a first grader during reading class at Stark Elementary School on September 16, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut. Photo credit John Moore/Getty Images

HARTFORD, Conn. (1010 WINS) -- Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday the state's indoor mask mandate for schools should be lifted at the end of this month, hours after New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy set a date to lift a similar order.

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Lamont said Monday that the mandate should end effective Feb. 28. Lamont said school districts and childcare centers would be able to decide if a mandate should continue after that.

With Lamont's emergency powers set to expire next week, the decision to end the mandate will be up to the state legislature or deferred to the state Department of Health and Department of Education.

The Democrat's move comes hours after Murphy said his state's mandate would end on March 7.

Students and teachers in New Jersey have been required to wear masks in schools since September 2020.

“Balancing public health with getting back to some semblance of normalcy is not easy. But we can responsibly take this step due to declining COVID numbers and growth in vaccinations,” Murphy tweeted.

At an afternoon press conference, the governor thanked everyone who wore masks over the past year and a half “without problem or protest.”

“You truly represent our highest New Jersey values of selflessness, community spirit, collective responsibility, looking out for others,” Murphy said.

The governor said he was giving a 30-day notice so schools and families could prepare for the change.

“Masking continues to be an important tool to prevent the spread of COVID and should be used in many circumstances,” he said, noting that the state health department would be updating its guidance to help school districts “make the best decisions as to whether and when masks should be worn.”

While the state’s mandate will be scrapped, individual school districts and private childcare providers will still be allowed to require masks now and in the future, Murphy said.

As omicron cases were rising and breaking daily records in January, Murphy declared a public health emergency that allowed for his existing orders, including the mask mandate for schools and daycare settings, to remain in effect.

COVID-19 cases have dropped significantly since last month, when daily cases reached over 30,000. By comparison, Sunday’s caseload was 1,625.

Murphy has faced pressure from Republicans and some parents who have held rallies at the statehouse in support of rescinding the requirement. But the governor has had support from the influential New Jersey Education Association, the state's biggest teachers union.

The governors of New York and Connecticut have also indicated that they’d reevaluate mask mandates in schools when they expire soon.

Next month marks two years since New York and New Jersey became an epicenter of the pandemic, which has since killed over 900,000 people in the U.S. alone. Of those deaths, 31,966 were in New Jersey and 65,760 were in New York, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.