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As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to fall in the U.S., nearly all states have moved to revise pandemic restrictions.
On Thursday, the Maryland State Board of Education voted to allow local school districts to decide whether students must don face masks in school and sent the proposal to end an emergency order to a legislative committee.
The board voted 12-2 to rescind the order on March 1, citing positive COVID-19 trends.
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The Maryland General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review has scheduled a virtual hearing and vote on the request for Friday.
“This action aligns with the data and the science, the recommendation of the State Superintendent of Schools, and the guidance of medical professionals across the country,” Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement on the matter.
Under current policy, local school systems there can decide to end the mask requirement if the spread of COVID-19 is moderate or low for 14 days in a row or if vaccination rates are higher than 80% in the school or community.
Maryland ended the state’s indoor mask mandate in May.
Several other states have announced plans to lift statewide mask requirements in schools, including Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Oregon.
In California – the first state to formally shift to an “endemic” approach to the coronavirus – officials previously delayed a decision on school mask regulations.
In an online announcement, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said his department would reassess whether the current rule should change on Feb. 28.
“This is not a decision we take lightly, it is not a decision that is a hasty one,” he said, noting that California’s vaccination rates for children are still low and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still recommends masks in schools.
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California’s indoor mask mandate has been lifted for most indoor settings for those who are vaccinated.
Those who remain unvaccinated will still be required to be masked indoors and everyone – regardless of vaccination status – will have to wear masks in higher-risk settings.
Local governments can continue their own indoor mask requirements, as Los Angeles County health officials announced they would. Supervisor Janice Hahn tweeted Tuesday that the Department of Public would issue a new health order allowing for vaccinated people to remove masks indoors at places that check for proof of vaccination.
The order would potentially “take effect Friday,” and she said it puts the county “significantly closer to aligning with the state.”
Previously, county officials said face coverings would no longer be required in certain outdoor settings once hospitalizations in the area drop and that masks would still be necessary indoors until the county recorded two consecutive weeks at or below “moderate” transmission of the virus.
The county said it would not further rescind masking requirements unless there were no reports of significantly circulating variants of concern that have the ability to threaten vaccine effectiveness.
While the omicron variant is still circulating around the country – making up 99.9% of new COVID-19 cases – the number of daily cases and deaths has fallen.
Data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center shows 99,820 new cases in the past day, with 2,300 new deaths.
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In January, the number of new cases topped one million and deaths exceeded 4,400, as the variant of concern surged.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday that the number of new cases around the world fell 21% in the last week, marking the third consecutive week that COVID-19 cases have dropped.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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