Some US Governors Defend Their Mask Policy Changes

Maryland and New Jersey governors defended their moves to ease Covid restrictions, saying on Sunday that falling coronavirus cases in their states warranted a change, even as new cases and deaths remain quite high in some regions of the United States.

“As far as we can see now, this thing is going from pandemic to endemic, and we think it’s the responsible step to take,” New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” referring to the stage where the virus becomes a manageable part of everyday life. He is one of several Democratic governors who last week announced plans to lift statewide mask mandates as the highly portable Omicron variant loses its grip on the United States.

According to many health experts, the next phase of the pandemic may depend on the emergence of new variants, vaccination coverage and risk tolerance. Herd immunity to Covid, public health specialists say, is unlikely to be achieved. And scientists have warned that protections may diminish over time, and future variants may be better able to circumvent our defenses.

Still, known coronavirus infections in the United States are declining, although cases across the country have not fallen to pre-Omicron levels and remain high in states like Alaska, Mississippi and West Virginia. Hospital admissions and deaths are also declining, but remain high.

Governor Murphy’s optimistic tone echoed that of Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, who has called on his state’s Board of Education to lift the mandate from his school mask. Governor Hogan abolished the state masking requirement in May last year, but the schools are run independently. “I think it’s safe enough for our kids to just try to get back to normal,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

President Biden suggested in an interview with NBC News that rising childhood vaccination rates, as well as the possible approval of vaccines for even younger children, could allow schools to end their own mask mandates.

“Every day that goes by, kids are getting better protected,” Mr Biden said, adding that “the more protection they have, you’re probably less and less obligated to have the masks.”

Several states’ move to lift restrictions comes after a new CBS poll found that a majority of Americans still support mask mandates, including in schools, but many are exhausted and frustrated by a pandemic that is in its third year. enters.

This week, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, her agency’s stance that masks should not be removed when gathering indoors. “We’re not there yet,” she said at a White House briefing on Wednesday.

As the number of cases falls and restrictions are lifted, said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration, that he thought the country seemed to be moving from a period of collective action to protect vulnerable groups to one where individuals must protect. themselves based on their own risk assessments.

The coronavirus pandemic: important things to know

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Covid boosters. Data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that booster shots against the coronavirus lose much of their potency after about four months, adding to evidence suggesting that some Americans may need a fourth dose.

Vaccines for young children. The Food and Drug Administration said it would wait for data on the effectiveness of three doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in children under 5 years of age before deciding whether to approve the vaccine for that age group.

“I think there are parts of the population that will be in a very difficult position right now because they remain vulnerable,” said Dr. Gottlieb on “Face the Nation.”

Young children, he said, are one of those groups, citing the FDA’s announcement on Friday to delay its decision on whether to approve Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine for children under 5 until more data is available. become available. Studies so far have shown that two doses are not enough to protect children ages 2 to 4, although the company expects data on the efficacy of a third dose in April.

dr. Gottlieb, who sits on Pfizer’s board, said the latest delay, which affects nearly 18 million children and their families, was frustrating. But he said the FDA’s decision was wise. By waiting, “they have a very clear idea of ​​the level of effectiveness the vaccine offers,” he said. “That’s important for patients and pediatricians to make fully informed decisions.”

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