Democrat governors are leaving the federal government behind as they lift their COVID-19 and mask mandates while the Biden administration stands firm behind the CDC’s refusal to recommend an end. As more abandon the restriction, it’s beginning to look like the president missed his off-ramp – and political disaster looms at the end of the road.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat who has imposed some of the most strict pandemic mandates in the nation, will now allow students and school staff to choose whether to mask up or not. “This is not a declaration of victory as much as an acknowledgment that we can responsibly live with this thing,” he said Monday, Feb. 7.
In New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul has announced the end of indoor mask and vaccine mandates effective today, Feb. 10, except for homeless shelters, health care centers, state-run nursing homes, correctional facilities, schools, and day cares. The governor said such restrictions would be up to cities, towns, and businesses.
In the president’s own state, Delaware, Gov. John Carney declared Monday that the universal indoor mask mandate would end effective 8:00 a.m. Friday, Feb. 11, and the K-12 requirement will expire 11:59 p.m. Thursday, March 31. Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee also announced that his state’s mask mandate and vaccine-proof policy for businesses and venues would end on Feb. 11, with the school mandate to end on March 4.
After Feb. 15, California will only require school children and the unvaccinated at “mega-events” with more than 1,000 people to wear masks indoors. No outdoor requirements exist in the Golden State, but masks remain recommended for events with more than 10,000 in attendance.
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced a plan to at least partially lift his state’s mask mandate on Feb. 28. While local jurisdictions and businesses may still require faces to be covered indoors, the state will not. Connecticut and Massachusetts will also lift their restrictions on the same day.
Health officials in Oregon announced Monday that the mask mandates for public places – including schools – will end March 31.
Despite all this, the Biden administration isn’t budging. During a press briefing on Wednesday, Feb. 9, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki repeatedly responded to questions by saying the federal government will follow the CDC’s guidelines – and urges states to do likewise. She added that the experts still say masks should be worn in high transmission areas, which comprise, in her own words, “basically, the entire country.”
Both Psaki and CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, say the experts are continually evaluating the situation, but as of now, the recommendation remains the same. Science, according to Psaki, “doesn’t move at the speed of politics.” And while she’s certainly correct in that statement, the question remains which side of the narrative has abandoned, as Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis (R) put it, medical science for political science.
Those who stand by the restrictions, like the entire Biden administration and most teachers unions, call for a “science-based” approach. But outside the government agency full of medical experts whose jobs may depend on pleasing the president, doctors are split on the issue. That mask mandates are helping – that they are worth the cost in mental health, human behavior, and the economy – is far from a consensus.
The Science of Politics
The question for the Biden administration, however, must be what damage this does to the president and the Democratic Party in general. Over the last couple of years, Americans have felt some of what it’s like living under the thumbs of oppressive statists, and the pandemic excuse is wearing thin. Monday, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, said that a bipartisan group of governors told the president it was time to “move away from the pandemic.” CNN’s Chris Cillizza even worries that Biden’s refusal to budge is “unintentionally fueling Ron DeSantis’ presidential ambitions.”
With nearly a dozen blue states joining a significant number of red states in opposition to their own president, Cillizza may well be right. It doesn’t bode well for Biden or any Democrat hoping to replace him in 2024, and it’s unlikely many voters will forget who held on to the restrictions come November 2022, either. When governors like Kate Brown, Philip Murphy, and Gavin Newsom abandon an idea, anyone should be able to read the writing on the wall.
~ Read more from James Fite.