Washington and New Mexico announced they were dropping their indoor mask mandates Thursday, leaving Hawaii as the only state that has yet to set a date for lifting its mandate.
Washington’s statewide indoor mask mandate will lift in most places on March 21, including at schools and child care facilities. New Mexico will drop its mandate immediately, which also includes schools.
Like the rest of the country, both states have seen a steady decline in both COVID cases and hospitalizations since the height of the omicron surge last month.
Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham cited reduced COVID-19 risks and removed her mask at an indoor news conference alongside Democratic legislators and top officials from her administration.
“It’s not a political decision,” Lujan Grisham said. “It’s the right time for us. We are conquering COVID and we’ll keep doing that.”
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing Wednesday that the government is contemplating a change to its mask guidance in the coming weeks.
Also in the news:
►Police in Canada said Friday they were arresting protesters who have blocked traffic for weeks in Ottawa over the country’s COVID-19 restrictions. The blockade in Canada’s capital was the last stronghold of the “Freedom Convoy” trucker protest.
►Three Milwaukee police officers are being investigated for allegedly creating fake COVID-19 vaccination cards to attend out-of-state training.
►Authorities made arrests from New York to Delaware to California Thursday as they rounded up 10 men accused of fraudulently reaping more than $4 million in unemployment benefits during the coronavirus pandemic.
►Offering a glimmer of hope, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that 73% of Americans are now immune to the omicron coronavirus variant, a number some experts say means future surges could require far less disruption to society.
📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 78 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 931,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 419 million cases and over 5.8 million deaths. More than 214 million Americans – 64.6% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
📘 What we’re reading: U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said Thursday it is the job of school leaders to listen to parents, students and educators as they continue to grapple with the lingering effects of the pandemic on the nation’s public schools.
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday announced the first shift by a state to an “endemic” approach to the pandemic that emphasizes prevention and quick reactions to outbreaks over mandates, a milestone nearly two years in the making that harkens to a return to a more normal existence.
“We have all come to understand what was not understood at the beginning of this crisis, that there’s no ending, that there’s not a moment where we declare victory,’’ Newsom said.
Instead of trying to extinguish the virus, Newsom said the state would transition away from crisis mentality and focus on preparing for the inevitable twists COVID-19 may present in the future. California ended indoor mask requirements for vaccinated people Wednesday and will announce Feb. 28 how long the mandate for schools will remain in place.
The approach moving forward will emphasize increased vaccination and testing, fighting misinformation, stockpiling medical supplies and flooding areas of virus surge with temporary medical workers. The plan also calls for boosting the state’s surveillance, including increased monitoring of virus remnants in wastewater to watch for the first signs of a surge.
— Jorge L. Ortiz, John Bacon and Jeanine Santucci, USA TODAY
An anime convention in New York City where one of the country’s first cases of the omicron variant was detected late last year did not become a superspreader event thanks to widespread masking, vaccinations and indoor air filters, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found.
The three-day November convention in Manhattan’s Javits Center saw some 53,000 people convene from 52 U.S. jurisdictions and 30 foreign countries, yet only 119 positive cases were identified, the CDC found.
Masks were required, attendees had to have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine before attending and the venue had a high-efficiency particulate air filtration system installed. Those measures are likely what contributed to the low spread, the CDC study said.
The New York Times reported Thursday that a pared-down list of invited guests – including nominees – will be required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination and at least two negative PCR tests to enter. This year 2,500 guests be invited to watch the show inside the Dolby Theatre, which generally holds 3,317.
Meanwhile, show performers and award presenters will be required to undergo testing, but will not be required to show proof of vaccination, the Times reported.
Face cover requirements will also vary at the awards show depending on the seat location in the theater, according to the Times. High-profile nominees and their guests seated in a spaced-out orchestra section (closer to the stage and in the view of television cameras) will not be required to wear face masks.
— Bryan Alexander, USA TODAY
Contributing: The Associated Press