As cases fall and the vaccine rollout continues, some states are lifting social distancing restrictions and mask mandates despite concerns from public health officials over a fourth wave. President Biden said today that relaxing restrictions right now is a “big mistake", but as deaths and hospitalizations continue to drop throughout the U.S. and more people are able to get vaccinated, states are opening up. Here are the states that announced changes this week.
Texas became the largest state to entirely lift its mask mandate this week. Some individual businesses are still requiring them, but there is no overall state mandate. Local authorities are forbidden from punishing residents who don’t wear a face covering. Texas also lifted all capacity restrictions on businesses in counties without high hospitalization rates. “It is time to open Texas 100%,” said Governor Greg Abbott. The move brought a wave of criticism from other policymakers and from Texas residents.
Mississippi followed closely on Texas’ heels and also lifted their statewide mask mandate today. Businesses will be allowed to operate at full capacity besides indoor arenas, which will be limited to 50% capacity. Residents are still urged to “use their best judgment”, but Governor Tate Reeves has declared that he will “no longer tell residents what to do.” Mississippi’s current hospitalization rates mirror what they were in late May, but state health official Thomas Dobbs urged people to be careful, saying “Please exercise caution.”
Chicago, Illinois, the third-largest U.S. school district, brought students back to the classroom in person this week, after a lengthy negotiation with their teacher’s union. Precautions are in place including socially distanced desks, required face coverings for all children and teachers, and temperature checks on arrival. Parents can choose to continue remote learning, however, and some teachers are still working from home.
Restaurants and bars in Illinois are also now able to operate at 50% capacity for indoor dining. So are indoor fitness facilities and movie theaters.
Pennsylvania increased event capacity for indoor events to 15%, and outdoor events to 20%, this week. Travelers to the state will no longer have to provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test to avoid quarantine. Governor Wolf said Pennsylvania is “taking a measured approach” to lifting restrictions.
The Governor of Louisiana, Jon Bel Edwards, increased capacity requirements for businesses this week, including bringing restaurants to 50% and bars to 25% capacity. He also increased event capacity to 50%. The state still has a mask mandate in effect and social distancing is encouraged. Edwards said he was “optimistic we can be successful” with reopening the state and avoid a case surge.
Throughout the last year, California has had stricter social distancing and shelter-in-place protocols than most other states. Seven counties, including San Francisco and Napa, moved to the state’s less restrictive “red tier” today, which allows indoor dining at 25% capacity, as well as movie theaters. Retail businesses can operate at 50% capacity. Mask and social distancing mandates remain in place.
Massachusetts will now allow restaurants to operate indoors at full capacity, although patrons will be held to a 90-minute limit and tables must be at least six feet apart. All other sectors can operate at 50%. Masks are still required, and Governor Charlie Baker said residents are "encouraged to avoid gatherings outside their household."
More States May Reopen Soon
As the vaccine rollout continues, more states are likely to begin reopening protocols. Mask mandates remain in effect in many states, and a federal mask mandate is in place for federal property as well as planes and trains. You can keep up to date on the latest regulations and reopening news on the Skip App.
If you’re curious how the vaccine rollout is going near you and how many of the people in your network have been able to get vaccinated, try out our new vaccine social tracker.