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More state, local leaders dial back COVID-19 restrictions as cases fall

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As coronavirus infections have fallen across the U.S., state and local leaders have taken steps to loosen or remove related restrictions. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has left decisions to leaders and Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that she is cautiously optimistic about current pandemic trends in the country, noting deaths and other numbers are still high. 

On Monday, in a situational update, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser said cases have dropped by more than 90%, with a 95% reduction in COVID-19 hospitalizations since the height of the omicron wave there. 

Washington’s indoor mask requirements are set to be “dialed back” on March 1 and, beginning Tuesday, indoor venues will no longer be required to verify that patrons are vaccinated. 

Businesses, however, may choose to keep vaccination requirements in place.

The Washington Post said Monday that reaction to the changes has been mixed and officials are still advising that residents wear masks indoors. 

According to the outlet, masks will still be required in some places like schools, public transit and emergency shelters. Health care employees will still be subject to a profession-specific vaccine requirement.

There were 475 new confirmed positive cases reported Monday and no additional deaths.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Browser listens during a public safety briefing at the Marion S. Barry Jr. Building in Washington on July 28, 2021.
(Olivier Douliery/AFPvia Getty Images)

In Philadelphia, sources told The Philadelphia Inquirer that the city’s vaccine mandate for indoor dining could end this week if benchmarks – including cases, hospitalizations, test positivity rates and the rate of case increase – are met.

“The message today, which I hope is clear, is today a change isn’t being made,” California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said in an online announcement. Ghaly said the department will reassess on Feb. 28 whether the rule should change.

“This is not a decision we take lightly, it is not a decision that is a hasty one,” he added, highlighting that the state’s vaccination rates for children remain low and the CDC still recommends masks in schools.

The news came a day before California lifts its mask mandate for most indoor settings for vaccinated people. 

Unvaccinated people will still be required to be masked indoors, and everyone – regardless of vaccination status – will have to wear masks in higher-risk settings like public transit and nursing homes. 

Local governments can continue their own indoor mask requirements.

Last week, Walensky told reporters that the U.S., while encouraged by recent data, is “not there yet.” 

National data from the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center shows 179,172 new cases and 2,777 new deaths over the past day.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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