Masks in schools will likely become a thing of the past in Delaware starting Wednesday.
The state has been working with school officials on new guidance with the plan to end the mask mandate in schools on March 31. Now, the timeline has been moved up a month.
Gov. John Carney's office announced Monday that per new CDC guidelines, the COVID state of emergency ends Tuesday, March 1 at 6 p.m., along with state masking requirements for schools, school buses and child care facilities. Vaccine and testing requirements for education workers and state employees end Monday, Feb. 28 at 11:59 p.m.
Local school districts will now have to decide what their restrictions are, as districts can keep the restrictions in place if they want.
Lake Forest School District intends to follow the state guidelines, Superintendent Steven Lucas said Monday, and will have more information coming out Monday night.
Woodbridge, too, will follow the governor's cue. Masks will no longer be required in any district buildings and buses, Superintendent Heath Chasanov said in a message to families. He also said per new guidance from the state, quarantine rules are being relaxed and school nurses will no longer need to do contact tracing. However, those who test positive will still need to isolate at home for at least five days, Chasanov wrote.
Laurel School District, too, announced it will make masks optional.
In some cases, area district leaders had said they were waiting for guidance from the state on protocols before making a final decision, while signaling they would not continue the mandates. Others had already voted to drop the requirements when the state mandate ended.
The press release from the governor states, "The Delaware Department of Education (DOE) and the Division of Public Health (DPH) have issued updated guidance to district and school leaders to aid response efforts following the expiration of the mask requirement."
“There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about where we’re headed,” Carney said in a statement. “Over the last month, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have fallen dramatically, and we are clearly moving into a new phase of this pandemic. Today’s announcement is consistent with new guidance from the CDC. And it’s consistent with the latest thinking from Delaware’s experts at the Division of Public Health. Delawareans who want to continue wearing a mask - including children in our schools – should be supported and encouraged to do so, even as we move into this new phase."
The state will also begin lifting mask requirements in state facilities on Wednesday.
A "more narrow" public health emergency order will replace the state of emergency, allowing "hospitals and long-term care facilities continued flexibility to respond to cases of COVID-19."
Delaware courts will also drop mask mandates Wednesday for employees and members of the public, the judiciary announced in a press release.
“After conferring with our infectious disease medical expert, Dr. Alfred Bacon, who has served us so well throughout the pandemic, he agrees with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new guidance and thinks it is reasonable at this time to drop the indoor mask requirement and unvaccinated employee testing requirements,” Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Collins Seitz said in a statement. He said they would continue to monitor the pandemic and would not hesitate to reverse course if needed.
The CDC recently changed its guidelines for masking, depending on COVID hospitalization and other statistics in a given area. It ranks counties around the country as low, medium or high risk, advising that people in low risk areas get tested if they have symptoms and stay up to date on vaccines, while advising people in high risk areas to wear masks indoors in public. In medium risk areas, the CDC recommends people at risk of severe illness talk to their doctor about whether to wear a mask.
New Castle County is listed as low risk as of Monday. Kent and Sussex counties are listed as medium risk.