Documenting America’s Path to Recovery #251: May 20, 2021

Note: Our team will be unplugging tomorrow, May 21, and there will not be a newsletter. We will return to our normal schedule May 24.

Welcome to Documenting America’s Path to Recovery. Today we look at:

  • Changes in Delaware’s coronavirus restrictions
  • A bill prohibiting masks in Utah public schools
  • Vaccine distribution
  • School closures and reopenings
  • Travel restrictions
  • Federal responses
  • COVID-19 policy changes from this time last year 

We are committed to keeping you updated on everything from mask requirements to vaccine-related policies. We will keep you abreast of major developments—especially those affecting your daily life. Want to know what we covered yesterday? Click here.

The next 96 hours

What is changing in the next 96 hours?

  • Delaware (Democratic trifecta): Fully vaccinated individuals will not have to wear masks or social distance in most indoor or outdoor public settings starting May 21. Percentage capacity restrictions will end for places of worship and most businesses (including restaurants and retailers), permitting facilities to use as much capacity as social distancing for unvaccinated people allows.
  • Georgia (Republican trifecta): The Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency will close the eight remaining state-run mass vaccination sites on May 21 because of the availability of vaccines at local providers.
  • Maine (Democratic trifecta): Fully vaccinated individuals will not have to wear masks in most indoor public settings starting May 24. Capacity and social distancing requirements for most businesses will end on the same day. Distancing requirements will remain for indoor bars and restaurants.
  • Michigan (divided government): On Monday, May 10, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) announced she would end the requirement that businesses mandate remote work when feasible on May 24 because 55% of residents had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot. On April 29, Whitmer announced a series of vaccination benchmarks that would end COVID-19 restrictions. The next set of restrictions—including capacity limits on stadiums and gyms and curfews on bars and restaurants—will be eased when 60% of residents have received at least one vaccine dose.
  • Rhode Island (Democratic trifecta): All remaining coronavirus restrictions, except three-foot social distancing requirements at indoor businesses and the indoor mask requirement for unvaccinated people, will end May 21. 

Since our last edition

What rules and restrictions are changing in each state? For a continually updated article, click here.

  • Iowa (Republican trifecta): On Thursday, May 20, Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) signed a law prohibiting public schools, cities, and counties from issuing mask mandates. The Iowa House of Representatives passed House File 847 53-35 on May 19, while the Senate passed it 29-17 on the same day. 
  • New Jersey (Democratic trifecta): Gov. Phil Murphy (D) announced the state will offer State Parks Vax Passes to individuals who have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine starting May 27. The passes will allow free access to all state park and forest facilities (including Island Beach State Park) through Dec. 31. Residents have to receive their first dose by July 4 to get a pass. The Department of Environmental Protection will refund fully vaccinated residents who already purchased Annual State Park Passes. Murphy also announced a partnership with participating wineries to give a free glass of wine to residents 21 and older who receive their first dose in May. Residents with at least one shot can also enter to win a dinner with Gov. Murphy and First Lady Tammy Murphy. 
  • Utah (Republican trifecta): On Wednesday, May 19, the Utah legislature passed House Bill 1007, which prohibits public schools, including public colleges and universities, from requiring that students, staff, and faculty wear masks. The Utah House of Representatives passed the bill 50-24, while the Senate passed the bill 23-5. It goes to Gov. Spencer Cox (R).
  • Wisconsin (divided government): On Wednesday, May 19, Gov. Tony Evers (D) issued new guidance allowing vaccinated individuals to go without masks in state facilities, including the Capitol building, beginning June 1.

Vaccine distribution

We last looked at vaccine distribution in the May 18 edition of the newsletter. As of May 19, the states with the highest vaccination rates as a percentage of total population (including children) were:

The states with the lowest rates were:

School closures and reopenings

Read more: School responses to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic during the 2020-2021 academic year

We last looked at school closures and reopenings on May 13. Since then, Massachusetts started requiring schools to offer full-time in-person instruction for high schoolers on May 17.


  • Two states (Del., Hawaii) and Washington, D.C. had state-ordered regional school closures, required closures for certain grade levels, or allowed hybrid instruction only.
    • 2016-17 enrollment: 403,664 students (0.80% of students nationwide)
  • Thirteen states had state-ordered in-person instruction.
    • 2016-17 enrollment: 15,432,755 students (30.51% of students nationwide)
  • One state (Ariz.) had state-ordered in-person instruction for certain grades.
    • 2016-17 enrollment: 1,123,137 students (2.22% of students nationwide)
  • Thirty-four states left decisions to schools or districts.
    • 2016-17 enrollment: 33,628,303 students (66.48% of students nationwide)

Travel restrictions

Read more: Travel restrictions issued by states in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020


  • Since the start of the pandemic, governors or state agencies in 27 states and the District of Columbia issued executive orders placing restrictions on out-of-state visitors. At least 24 of those orders have been rescinded. 
    • Since May 13, two states have ended their travel restrictions.  


  • New Jersey – On May 17, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) ended the requirement that unvaccinated people self-quarantine for 10 days upon arrival. Murphy exempted vaccinated people from the quarantine requirement on April 5, 2021.
  • Vermont – On May 14, Gov. Phil Scott (R) ended the requirement that unvaccinated out-of-state travelers and returning residents test negative for COVID-19 or quarantine for 10 days.

Federal responses

Read more: Political responses to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020

  • On May 17, President Joe Biden (D) announced he authorized up to 20 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to be shared with other countries by the end of June.
  • On May 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) amended its mask guidance to say fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks in most indoor and outdoor public settings, regardless of the number of people gathered.

This time last year: Thursday, May 21, and Friday, May 22, 2020

The first case of COVID-19 in the U.S. was confirmed on Jan. 21, 2020. But it wasn’t until March when the novel coronavirus upended life for most Americans. Throughout March and April, many states issued stay-at-home orders, closed schools, restricted travel, and changed election dates. Many of those policies remain in place today. Each week, we’ll look back at some of the defining policy responses of the early coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s what happened this time last year. To see a list of all policy changes in each category, click the links below.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

  • Travel restrictions
    • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) ended the requirement that out-of-state travelers quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in the state. Abbott first issued the travel restriction on March 26. 
  • Federal government responses:
    • The Department of Defense ended a ban on new recruits who had been at any point in the past hospitalized for COVID-19. Matthew Donavan, the under secretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, said the military would evaluate recruits who had recovered from the disease on a case-by-case basis.

Friday, May 22, 2020:

  • Stay-at-home orders:
    • North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) replaced the statewide stay-at-home order with a “Safer at Home” order. The order allowed restaurants to open to indoor dining at 50% capacity, but kept bars and playgrounds closed.