coronavirus restrictions

Philly Mask, Vaccine Mandates to Remain as NJ, Delaware Ease COVID Rules

New COVID cases in Philadelphia, New Jersey and Delaware are down as much as 90% versus early January, and nearly back to pre-Omicron variant levels. Philadelphia officials are taking a slower approach to easing COVID-19 mandates than in New Jersey and Delaware.

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In New Jersey, the school mask mandate will end March 7, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday. In Delaware, the indoor mask mandate will end this Friday, Feb. 11 at 11:59 p.m., Gov. John Carney said later on Monday.

Carney added that the state's school mask mandate will expire March 31.

Those two big developments follow already eased masking rules in Pennsylvania, where statewide school masking went optional after a lawsuit in December.

The one place in the greater Philadelphia region where indoor masking has yet to get an end date is in the city of Philadelphia. A city health department spokesman told NBC10 on Monday that the city's school mask mandate, as well as requirements for masks at all indoor public space and proof of vaccination for inside dining will remain in place for the time being.

"From the high point of the Omicron wave, we’re down 90% in terms of new cases per day, so things are definitely going in the right direction," Philadelphia Health Department spokesman James Garrow said. "But we were so high that it’s still a long way down. There’s real honest conversation in the Health Department about how to off ramp some of this."

Across the Delaware River in New Jersey, Gov. Murphy said school districts can continue their own mandates if they want after the mandate ends next month -- and school districts are not permitted to ban masks, either.

The New Jersey Education Association -- with which Murphy is closely allied -- issued a statement endorsing the move, saying they were "cautiously optimistic" it was safe if trends continued.

Less than a month ago, Murphy declared a new public health emergency over the omicron variant and extended a number of executive orders that included the school and daycares mask mandate.

But Murphy told the New York Times in a Sunday interview that masks were never meant to be permanent, and that the change was timed for warmer weather, which would give schools more ventilation options.

New Jersey was hit badly by the omicron variant, consistently reporting more than 20,000 new infections a day for a large part of January. But just as quickly as the wave rose, it fell.

On Sunday the state recorded just 1,625 new COVID-19 cases, down 95% in a month and back to the levels usually seen before omicron arrived.

In Delaware, the number of new cases has also fallen dramatically in recent weeks.

“We’re in a much better place than we were several weeks ago in the middle of the Omicron surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations,” said Carney said in a news release.

The ending of mask mandates in Delaware doesn't mean COVID is defeated, Carney added.

"I want to be clear about this point - COVID is still circulating in our communities, Carney said. "And the virus still poses a risk of serious illness, particularly among those who are not up to date on their vaccinations. But we have the tools to keep ourselves and each other safe. Get vaccinated. Get your booster. That’s especially important for children, where we continue to see low rates of vaccination."

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