As the Omicron wave continues to rapidly recede in the United States and new cases plummet to their lowest levels since September, more businesses and two of the biggest music festivals have dropped mask restrictions, as have a growing number of states and cities.
Omicron-driven cases have fallen almost as quickly as they rose this winter, with the seven-day average of U.S. cases reaching more than 140,000 on Tuesday, according to a New York Times database. Cases have now fallen below the peak of the Delta-driven wave, when they topped out at 164,418 on Sept. 1. Deaths remain high at around 2,328 per day.
On Tuesday, Tyson Foods and Walt Disney World and Disneyland became the latest big businesses to loosen their mask requirements. They joined Walmart and others that have quickly eased restrictions as caseloads decline and states like New York and California end mask mandates.
And, in a turning point for the struggling live-events industry, the organizers of the outdoor music festivals Coachella and Stagecoach said on Tuesday that they would not require attendees to be masked, vaccinated or tested for the coronavirus.
Since the start of last week, the authorities in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Oregon have announced that they were loosening indoor mask requirements. However, some cities and school districts are keeping their mandates in place.
On Tuesday, Massachusetts public health authorities eased their mask guidelines by recommending that only vulnerable people wear face coverings inside. And Provincetown, Mass., the town that showed last summer that the Delta variant could spread among vaccinated partygoers, announced that it had zero active cases and it would not require businesses to ask patrons for proof of vaccination.
Los Angeles County said that, as of Wednesday, masks would no longer be required outside at schools or “mega events.”
Despite shifting mask mandates, vaccine mandates have remained largely unchanged. Experts said that with fewer people wearing masks indoors, getting more people vaccinated was even more important.
“These protections at the societal level are really important for vulnerable people and for us all,” said Rachel Widome, a professor of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota.
Many medical experts say that mandates are effective in persuading more people to get vaccinated, which they say is essential to helping prevent the spread of the virus. Although mandates have been effective at several private companies, including Tyson Foods, they remain polarizing.
“Mandates spur a very strong reaction,” said Neil Maniar, a professor of public health practice at Northeastern University. “You can sometimes achieve the same goal without having a mandate.”