PHILADELPHIA - As a winter surge of COVID-19 cases brought on by the highly-infectious Omicron variant continues to recede, some states have set a deadline for lifting mask mandates in schools.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stood by its recommendation for students to wear masks in school, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said this week that individual districts will have the power to set mask rules after Mar. 7.
"We are not — and I’ve said this many times — going to manage COVID to zero," the governor said. "We have to learn how to live with COVID as we move from a pandemic to an endemic phase of this virus."
Delaware Gov. John Carney also announced this week that his state's school mask mandate will stay in effect until March 31.
Philadelphia Commissioner of Health Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said the city's indoor mask mandate will remain unchanged. The School District of Philadelphia also updated its mask guidance to exclude cloth masks and support double masking and KN95 masks.
The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia on Tuesday endorsed making masks option for students and teachers in districts with declining COVID-19 data.
"I think school districts and local areas are going to have to look at the numbers, rely on their public health officials to determine the amount of transmission and make decisions on whether to mandate mask as school," Dr. Mike Cirigliano said.
The debate over masks in schools has been polarizing in much of the U.S., with parents protesting at school board meetings and slates of candidates -- pro- and anti-mask -- seeking school board seats in an attempt to shape policies.
Gov. Murphy called the upcoming decision to drop masks in schools "a huge step back to normalcy for our kids." Some have questioned the mental and developmental toll that masks-wearing has on children.
"There is data suggesting that kids who wear masks may have some issues regarding interpersonal relationships, communication skills," Dr. Cirigliano said.
Nationwide, new COVID-19 cases per day have plunged by more than a half-million since mid-January, when they hit a record-shattering peak of more than 800,000. Cases have been declining in 47 states over the past two weeks, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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