by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Democrats in some blue states are racing to unwind pandemic-era restrictions that have grown deeply unpopular with voters — even though COVID-19, in some of the places, poses no less danger than when leaders put the restrictions in place.
Illinois and New York on Wednesday became the latest Democratic-controlled states to announce an end to statewide mask mandates in light of the shifting consensus around the virus, although the states left intact mask requirements in schools.
Democratic governors in other states, including New Jersey and Connecticut, lifted mask mandates for schools this week in a sign that attitudes about one of the most contentious aspects of pandemic policy are changing rapidly.
Proponents of the sudden shift in strategy from Democrats argue that the science has indeed changed: Vaccination rates are up, and positive cases driven by the omicron variant are falling.
But critics say little has changed recently about scientists’ understanding of the virus and the effectiveness of mitigation efforts. They accuse Democrats of rolling back restrictions out of concern for political consequences, not because of new scientific evidence.
COVID-19 data show cases are falling across the nation — although transmission levels haven’t dropped below the threshold that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention set for recommending an end to masking.
But COVID-19 death rates in the blue states backing away from mandates remain just as high or higher as they were when Democratic leaders imposed mandates initially.
And little new evidence has emerged to suggest that masks are no longer necessary in the classroom — few studies supported their use to begin with.
Gov. Kathy Hochul announced this week an end to a statewide rule that forced businesses to demand that customers show proof of vaccination or wear a mask at all times indoors.