When Is It Safe to Take Off Face Masks? 16 States Are Doing So Too Early

Health experts advise against taking off face masks too early. MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images

On Tuesday, Texas and Mississippi became the fourth and fifth states to lift mask requirements and other COVID-19 restrictions, joining Montana, Iowa and North Dakota that have rolled back similar rules in the past month. A total of 16 states have now either rolled back face mask mandates or never had one in the first place, efforts aimed at reopening local economies and scoring political points even while the coronavirus continues to spread across the country.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, without consulting his medical advisors, said Tuesday he would issue an executive order effective March 10 to reverse most of the previous COVID-19 orders and “open Texas 100%.” Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves tweeted the same day that all county mask mandates would be lifted starting Wednesday.

These governors argued that COVID-19 hospitalization and new cases have declined dramatically in recent days and that the pace of vaccination is fast enough to start allowing people to return to normal. “We are putting our focus towards rapid vaccine distribution. We are getting out of the business of telling people what they can and cannot do,” Reeves tweeted.

Texas and Mississippi’s announcements came just a day after the CDC advised against states prematurely lifting COVID-19 restrictions. President Joe Biden slammed the states’ decisions, calling them “a big mistake.”

“The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that, in the meantime, everything’s fine, take off your mask, forget it. It still matters,” Biden said on Wednesday.

About 8 percent of Americans have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccination is expected to accelerate in the coming weeks as more vaccines clear the FDA’s emergency use authorization and vaccine makers join forces to ramp up production.

Yet, health experts advise wearing a mask even after one is vaccinated, because those inoculated may still be able to transmit the virus. “Currently, we do not have enough data to be able to say with confidence that the vaccines can prevent transmission,” White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a tweet during an online Q&A session last month. “So even if vaccinated, you may still be able to spread the virus to vulnerable people.”

Texas and Mississippi are by far the two largest states to completely lift COVID-19 restrictions (although cities and businesses can still make their own choices of whether to mandate masks).

Eleven other states never had a statewide mask mandate during the yearlong coronavirus pandemic. They are:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee

More states could follow their suits, raising the risk of another resurgence of new cases. At press time, more than 28 million Americans have contracted the coronavirus and half a million have died. Daily new cases have dropped from a record high of 200,000 in early January to around 50,000 this week. When Is It Safe to Take Off Face Masks? 16 States Are Doing So Too Early