Biden Says Ending Mask Mandates Is ‘Probably Premature’

T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

President Biden responded to American frustration with pandemic restrictions, saying that it was still too soon to lift indoor mask mandates, while suggesting that other restrictions may soon be able to end.

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In the roughly 22-minute interview, some of which was previewed before Sunday, Mr. Biden said that decisions by some state governors last week to begin lifting indoor mask mandates were “probably premature,” but acknowledged that they were a “tough call.”

Most mandates will not expire immediately, though some, like Nevada’s, did. New York’s requirement that businesses ask customers for proof of vaccination or require mask wearing expired on Thursday.

A CBS poll taken last week found that a majority of Americans still support mask mandates, including in schools, but that many are exhausted and frustrated by the pandemic. Public health experts agree that mask requirements in schools should not last forever, but some experts say that lifting school mask mandates too early could jeopardize the progress made over the last few weeks as cases declined.

Mr. Biden said that rising rates of childhood vaccination, as well as the potential authorization of vaccines for even younger children, could allow schools to end their own mask mandates.

“Every day that goes by, children are more protected,” Mr. Biden said, adding that “the more protection they have, probably you’re going to see less and less requirement to have the masks.”

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U.S. cases are falling fast, down to about 175,000 daily, a nearly two-thirds drop over two weeks, according to a New York Times database. But hospitalizations, at about 95,000, and deaths, at more than 2,400 daily, remain very high.

As governors relaxed rules, officials in some cities, counties and school districts indicated that they would keep their own mandates in place, adding new complications to an already confusing array across the country.

In New Jersey, Gov. Philip D. Murphy announced that school employees and students would no longer be required to wear masks beginning the second week of March. reported that the Camden City School District would still require masks. Katrina McCombs, a superintendent for the district, told the outlet that while it was encouraging to see case numbers dropping in the state, school officials still “want to make sure our young people continue to be safe while in our care.”

The mayors of Boston and New Haven, Conn., also said masks would still be required in schools after their states’ mandates expire at the end of February.

In California, health officials in some counties, including Marin, Orange, Sacramento, San Francisco and San Diego, pledged to lift strict local rules when the state does later this month. Other counties, however, including Los Angeles and Santa Clara, said they would not ease restrictions until rates of vaccination, transmission and infection had improved.

Lester Holt, who hosted the NBC interview with Mr. Biden, said that many of the people in the audience of this year’s Super Bowl would not be wearing masks, in violation of local law in Inglewood, Calif.

“I love how people talk about personal freedom,” Mr. Biden said in response. “If your exercising personal freedom puts someone else in jeopardy, their health in jeopardy. I don’t consider that being very dealing with freedom.”

Mr. Biden added: “People should get the shots. We know the shots work. We know they work for the variants that we are dealing with now.”

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