How The CDC Change on Mask Guidance Set Off Confusion in States and Cities

SAN ANTONIO – Minnesota’s nationwide mask mandate has ended. However, face covering is still required in Minneapolis, the state’s largest city.

In Michigan, Kentucky, and Oregon, governors cheerfully told vaccinated people that they could go out maskless. For New Yorkers, New Jerseyers and Californians, however, mask mandates remained in force.

The new federal guidance on masks was so unexpected that Kansas City, Missouri Mayor Quinton Lucas went from saying he wouldn’t change his mask order to saying he would consider it to announcing getting rid of everything altogether within about seven hours.

Across the country, governors, shopkeepers and worries on Friday struggled to understand the abrupt change in federal guidelines that allow fully vaccinated people to safely enter most locations indoors or outdoors without a mask.

At least 20 states that still had mask mandates this week said by Friday night they would be exempting fully vaccinated individuals or canceling the orders entirely, while at least five other states with mask requirements had not announced any changes. The rapidly changing rules ended more than a year of mandatory masking in much of the country, though some said they weren’t ready to take off their face coverings just yet.

“I’ll be wearing a mask for a long time,” said Fanny Lopez, 28, who went shopping in San Antonio on Friday morning while wearing a black cloth mask. “I trust the mask more than the vaccine. The government messages are confusing and tell us to wear a mask one day and no the next day. “

The sudden shift in public health advice resonated across all levels of government, from the Hartsville, SC City Hall, where a local mask mandate was allowed to expire, to the Gaming Control Board in Nevada, which said it was impractical to “try to To enforce a mask mandate tied to a person’s vaccination status, “to the US Capitol, where the attending physician said that the members of the house still had to cover their faces on the floor of the chamber.

But the postponement has been perhaps the biggest challenge facing governors and metropolitan mayors, many of whom have spent significant political capital on mask orders in the face of protests and legal proceedings, and who had not previously received a heads-up on the federal policy change it was announced on Thursday.

Mayor Lucas said he couldn’t keep order in Kansas City because there was no easy way to tell people who are fully vaccinated – now 36 percent of Americans – from 64 percent who are not.

“While I understand the CDC theory that they could just make a rule that vaccinated people go anywhere without a mask and everyone else who isn’t vaccinated should follow it, I don’t know if that’s the kind of rule that was written in vote with Anyone who has been the governor or mayor in the past 14 months, “said Democrat Lucas.

The Centers’ new guidelines for Disease Control and Prevention, in the face of a sharp drop in new cases and an extension of vaccination eligibility to everyone aged 12 and over, signaled a shift towards pre-pandemic social norms when no one thought twice about buying Food or sit with bare mouth and nose in the cabin. Walmart announced Friday that fully vaccinated employees and customers would no longer have to wear masks, and Costco made a similar announcement.

“I’ve looked for my face mask in my short pockets at least 20 times today,” said Erik Darmstetter, who is fully vaccinated and has office furniture liquidations in San Antonio. “It wasn’t there. I keep forgetting that we no longer need it. “

Others moved more slowly. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat, said he would keep his state’s masked mandate and wrote on Twitter, “We’re making incredible strides, but we’re not here yet.” And Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, said he would revise his state’s rules next week, but did not announce any immediate changes.


May 15, 2021, 4:09 p.m. ET

That was okay with Kay McGowan, who owns a carpet and furniture store in Somerville, Massachusetts. She said she would not take off her mask or allow clients to do so.

“It feels too early to me,” said Ms. McGowan.

The CDC announcement on Thursday surprised mayors and governors. During the Thursday evening and into Friday afternoon, states and cities announced, one by one, that they would revise or end their mask orders.

Governors in New Mexico, Maine, Maryland and Colorado were among those who adjusted their rules on Friday in light of CDC guidelines. In Rhode Island, where officials learned of the new federal guidelines during a press conference Thursday, heads of state said Friday they would relax their masking rules.

However, the new CDC proposals were not universally popular. Some public health experts questioned the wisdom of the relaxed policies, while local officials faced the reality that there was no real way of knowing who was who when they made separate rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

“The people who have exceeded the limits of not wearing a mask are also the ones who tend not to be vaccinated,” said Mayor Kim Norton of Rochester, Minn. “To say vaccinated people can take their masks off.” I cannot guarantee that the person next to us has been vaccinated. “

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, who announced Friday that masking rules were being relaxed in her city, hoped business owners would ask about the vaccination status of maskless customers.

“But we don’t want this to be some kind of show-me-your-papers moment,” said Ms. Jones, who said she personally intended to continue wearing a mask. “We just have to trust what people tell us.”

For more than a year, public health experts have been calling for masking, a key to curbing the airborne spread of the coronavirus. Some places expired their mask requirements months ago, but face coverings were still mandatory this week in more than 20 states and many cities and counties. Just a few weeks ago, the CDC said fully vaccinated Americans could normally forego masks outdoors, but should continue to wear them indoors in public spaces.

The agency changed course Thursday, saying people who were at least two weeks after their final vaccine dose could safely enter most places, both indoors and outdoors, without a mask. The CDC said everyone should still wear a mask in certain settings, including healthcare facilities, on public transit, and on flights.

In San Antonio, Sue Morgan, who said she was fully vaccinated and worked in Mr. Darmstetter’s shop, was happy to be getting back to something nearing normal.

“I came in with a mask on today and wasn’t sure how to go about it,” said Ms. Morgan, who works in customer service at the store. “Then we took them all off. I have to say it’s nice to see faces again. “

But Rachael McKinnon, who said she quit teaching in Massachusetts earlier this year because of concerns about the safety of schools reopening, expressed doubts Friday about the timing of the CDC’s decision as many people are not yet vaccinated.

“At some point we have to get on with our lives and we have to decide that there is a point where things are safe,” said Ms. McKinnon, “but I just don’t know it is now.”

Edgar Sandoval reported from San Antonio, Kate Taylor from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Mitch Smith from Chicago. John Yoon, Benjamin Guggenheim, Lauren Hirsch, and Tracey Tully contributed to this story.

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