More States Relax Pandemic-Related Masking Rules

Lisa Nagele-Piazza, J.D., SHRM-SCP By Lisa Nagele-Piazza, J.D., SHRM-SCP February 17, 2022
Woman throwing mask into garbage bin

This article has been updated.

Many states—including California, Illinois and New York—are easing their mask requirements as COVID-19 cases decline after the winter spike caused by the omicron variant of the coronavirus. We've gathered articles on masking rules from SHRM Online and other media outlets.

Updated CDC Guidance Expected

Daily COVID-19 cases in the U.S. reached a record high of 1.34 million on Jan. 10, and the rolling average of daily cases surpassed 800,000 in mid-January, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Since then, the average number of daily cases has dropped significantly, falling to less than 140,000 as of Feb. 17.

The CDC has not relaxed its guidelines, but Director Rochelle Walensky said the agency will be updating its COVID-19-related metrics soon. "We are assessing the most important factors based on where we are in the pandemic, and we'll soon put guidance in place that is relevant and encourages prevention measures when they are most needed to protect public health and our hospitals," she explained at a White House press briefing on Feb. 16.  "We want to give people a break from things like mask-wearing when these metrics are better and then have the ability to reach for them again should things worsen."

(CDC) and (White House)

California Lifts Some Masking Rules

Indoor masking requirements in the Golden State were dropped in many settings beginning Feb. 16 for people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. However, employers may still be covered by other directives that require masking, and some localities still require universal masking.      

"Only unvaccinated persons are required to mask in all indoor public settings," the California Department of Public Health. "Fully vaccinated individuals are recommended to continue indoor masking when the risk may be high."

(SHRM Online) and (The Sacramento Bee)

New York Ends Indoor Masking Rule for Businesses

Following the drop in cases, New York ended its vaccine-or-masking requirement for businesses, effective Feb. 10. "Given the declining cases, given the declining hospitalizations, that is why we feel comfortable," said Gov. Kathy Hochul. "We want to make sure that every business knows, this is your prerogative. And individuals who want to continue wearing masks, continue wearing masks."

Indoor masking rules will still apply on public transit and to child care settings, hospitals, nursing homes and schools. Additionally, counties and cities can maintain their own mandates. Officials in New York City are encouraging people to wear masks even where they are not mandated. "We are continuing to follow the science and the guidance of public health professionals to keep New Yorkers safe," said Fabien Levy, the mayor's press secretary. "We encourage all New Yorkers to continue to wear high-quality masks when indoors or in crowded spaces and to get vaccinated and boosted to stop the spread."

(CNN) and (NBC New York)

Illinois Follows Suit

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced that indoor masking requirements for businesses will be lifted on Feb. 28—but local governments and businesses are still free to impose their own restrictions. Masking requirements for schools in the state will remain in effect. "The equation for schools just looks different right now than it does for the general population,'' Pritzker said. "Schools need a little more time for our community infection rates to drop, for our youngest learners to become vaccine-eligible, and for more parents to get their kids vaccinated."

(USA Today) and (The Chicago Tribune)

More States to Lift School Restrictions

Pennsylvania already lifted its statewide mandate last month for masking in schools, and the governors of Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Oregon all said they would end mandatory masking in schools in February or March.

(USA Today)

Tracking Evolving State Laws

"Governors and public health officials across the country implemented stringent mitigation measures to help contain the spread of COVID-19," noted law firm Littler Mendelson. "As COVID-19 case rates fluctuate, face coverings remain popular as a preventative measure." Additionally, some directives require employers to provide masks to their employees. Here's an updated list of state masking requirements.

(Littler Mendelson)

Visit SHRM's resource hub page on COVID-19 and the coronavirus



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