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As the initial spike of COVID-19’s omicron variant dwindles ahead of spring, some Democratic mayors and governors are lifting rules that require people to show proof of vaccination at local businesses, wear masks indoors or send their children to school wearing masks.
“It’s pretty clear that these various non-pharmaceutical interventions, which have never been well attested since they were first put in place roughly two years ago, just weren’t working,” Doug Badger, a senior fellow for domestic policy studies at conservative think-tank The Heritage Foundation, told Fox News Digital.
Denver among the first
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock was one of the first to lift restrictions when he announced Jan. 31 that the city would not extend its emergency order mandating masks and proof of vaccination for entry into Denver businesses.
“Following extensive discussions with our regional partners … and the downward trajectory of cases, positivity and hospitalizations, Denver will not be extending our public health order,” Hancock said at the time. “It has been an incredibly hard two years for all of us. We need a little less anger and petulance and a little more understanding for folks toward one another.”
Starting Feb. 26, Denver schools will no longer require students to wear masks.
Mayors of other major cities, including Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser; New York City Mayor Eric Adams; Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot; and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, have yet to issue similar announcements.
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu last Tuesday said the city would reconsider its vaccine mandates once there are fewer than 200 COVID-19 hospitalizations per day, according to MassLive.
But some governors are taking a statewide approach to ending emergency orders.
Last Monday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced that school children and staffers would no longer be required to wear masks, starting March 7, after he extended the order in January. Also last Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that state residents will no longer have to mask indoors starting next week. The governors of New York, Illinois, Connecticut, Oregon and Delaware have made similar plans to roll back mask mandates.
Badger noted that while he’s not sure former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo “could have put [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis policies in effect in New York any more than Gov. DeSantis could have put the Cuomo policies in effect in Florida,” he does believe states’ independent experiences speak for themselves.
“If the various claims about masks and distancing and lockdowns and all the rest had produced demonstrably different results in the states where they were tried, we might argue that having a uniform approach would have been better. But the experience has been quite otherwise,” he said. “And I think that’s why you’re beginning to see even governors who have been very supportive of restrictions and have implemented enforced restrictions are rapidly retreating from them.”
Same levels of infection
Most leaders rolling back mandates tout declining COVID-19 case numbers and high vaccination rates, but Badger says other states that never had those mandates in the first place have experienced similar infection and hospitalization spikes and declines over the past two years after the initial outbreak in the spring of 2020.
“The communities, states and cities that had mandates and various restrictions in place suffered the same levels of COVID infection and hospitalizations as the states, counties and municipalities that did not put those restrictions in place,” Badger explained.
“And that’s not just true of the United States. You can look at Israel, Denmark, the U.K., France, Spain — all countries with higher vaccination rates than the U.S. and more sweeping restrictions in place at the national level than the U.S, and they ended up with higher rates of infection on a population-adjusted basis than the U.S. did.”
A recent study released by Johns Hopkins University indicates that pandemic restrictions like lockdowns and non-pharmaceutical interventions like mask mandates had “little to no effect on COVID-19 mortality.”
Additionally, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated in January that cloth masks, commonly worn by many Americans, provide the least amount of protection. The Mayo Clinic said in late December that patients and visitors could no longer wear only a cloth mask and must have a medical-grade face covering. While they recognized that some cloth masks could provide sufficient protection, many commonly worn types did not.
Meanwhile, the CDC is the only health agency in the world recommending masks for 2-year-olds.
Badger pointed to the politicization of the virus as the reason state and local leaders are just now starting to lift restrictions, noting that 70% of Americans want to accept COVID-19 and get on with their lives, according to a Monmouth University poll published Jan. 31.
“When you politicize things and start to say this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and unvaccinated people are crowding sick patients out of hospital beds, you don’t persuade unvaccinated people to get vaccinated. That much is pretty clear,” Badger said. “But you do deepen the divisions and the hard feelings and the skepticism about what the public health authorities are advising people to do.”
Fox News’ Ronn Blitzer contributed to this report.