As the Omicron surge begins to recede in many regions of the country, the governors of a handful of states have announced that they will lift school mask mandates in the coming weeks.
But the move to loosen these politically charged restrictions has divided scientists and public health experts. Some cheered the change.
“I think it’s entirely appropriate that we start lifting school mask mandates now,” said Joseph Allen, a Harvard University researcher who studies indoor environmental quality, including in schools. “We’re in a much better place than we were before, and it’s time to update our strategies to reflect the moment.”
Others noted that the virus was still exacting a significant toll on the United States, with cases about as high as during last winter’s peak and more than 2,500 Americans dying each day. Lifting school mask mandates too early could jeopardize the progress that the country has made over the last few weeks, some health experts said.
“We’re just starting to get it back under control,” said Seema Lakdawala, a respiratory virus researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, noting that many young children remain unvaccinated. “I don’t think we should be abandoning the interventions we have that are still helpful.”
School mask mandates have been among the most contentious public health measures implemented in response to the pandemic.
“Kids can tolerate this, and when it’s necessary to do so, it’s fine for them to mask,” Dr. Allen said. “But we shouldn’t do it for one second longer than necessary.”
Ideally, local officials should be prepared to lift and reimpose school mask mandates as conditions change, experts said.