New Jersey Democratic governor Phil Murphy is ending his state's school mask mandates, signaling that some Democratic officials are ready to move away from politically fraught coronavirus restrictions.
Murphy announced on Sunday he would scrap the mask mandates on Monday afternoon, though the policy won't take effect until March, the New York Times first reported. As vice chairman of the National Governors Association, his decision will likely influence other state governors. Some have already made the move. Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf (D.) ended his state's school mask mandate in January, even as coronavirus case counts have remained high amid the Omicron variant. Following a meeting with President Joe Biden on Wednesday, Murphy suggested it was time for a change.
"The overwhelming sentiment on both sides of the aisle," Murphy told reporters at the White House, "is we want to get to a place where we can live with this thing in as normal a fashion as possible."
Schools in California, New York, Rhode Island, Illinois, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia still require students and faculty to be masked regardless of vaccination status, with no set end date. In Connecticut, Massachusetts, Delaware, and Maryland, the mandates are set to expire within the next month. All of the states except Massachusetts and Maryland have Democratic governors.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has supported more aggressive masking policies for children than other world public health bodies. The World Health Organization does not support masking for children younger than six, and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control discourages masking of any children in primary school. A peer-reviewed study in January 2021 from the American Academy of Pediatrics found that in-school transmission of COVID-19 is "extremely rare."
The debate over school mask mandates remains a potent political tool for Republican candidates, many of whom have sought to cast their Democratic opponents as enforcing draconian COVID-mitigation policies. Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams on Friday tweeted a photo of herself maskless and surrounded by masked children and adults at an elementary school. The picture opened Abrams up to attack from Republicans.
"Stacey Abrams wants state government mask mandates for Georgians and their children," Gov. Brian Kemp's campaign tweeted Saturday. "But it looks like they wouldn't apply when she’s attending a photo op."
Abrams's campaign on Monday morning posted a job for a social media platforms director.