Welcome to Documenting America’s Path to Recovery. Today we look at statewide mask requirements in California, New York, and Rhode Island, an at-home rapid COVID-19 test initiative in Massachusetts, and other news since Dec. 9.
We’ll also give the latest tracking on:
- Lawsuits about state actions and policies
- Vaccine distribution
- State-level mask requirements
- COVID-19 emergency health orders
- School mask requirements
- State proof-of-vaccination requirements and policies
What is changing in the next week?
Rhode Island (Democratic trifecta): On Dec. 15, Gov. Dan McKee (D) announced a new statewide mask requirement would go into effect on Dec. 20. Masks will be required regardless of vaccination status at indoor venues with a capacity of 250 or more. For smaller indoor venues and businesses with indoor operations, establishments must either require masks for all individuals, require vaccines for all individuals, or allow individuals to either wear a mask or show proof of vaccination.
Since our last edition
What rules and restrictions are changing in each state? For a continually updated article, click here.
- On Dec. 9, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted Emergency Use Authorization to Pfizer’s booster vaccine for individuals aged 16 and 17. Shortly after the FDA’s announcement, the Centers for Disease Control updated its booster recommendations to include that age group.
California (Democratic trifecta): On Dec. 13, the California Department of Health announced a new statewide indoor mask requirement for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals would take effect on Dec. 15. The requirement only applies to local health jurisdictions that did not previously have a universal indoor mask requirement, meaning the order does not affect localities with pre-existing universal mask requirements. Previously, California had an indoor mask requirement in place for unvaccinated individuals.
Delaware (Democratic trifecta): On Dec. 13, Gov. John Carney (D) formally extended the state’s school mask requirement until Feb. 8, 2022. Carney announced the extension on Nov. 10.
Louisiana (divided government): On Dec. 14, Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) announced that the Louisiana Department of Health would add the coronavirus vaccine to the list of required vaccinations for students 16 and older, overriding the Louisiana House of Representatives Health and Welfare Committee’s Dec. 6 vote against the policy. He said parents could submit a written objection to opt-out.
Maryland (divided government): On Dec. 15, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced a series of actions aimed at heading off a potential surge in COVID-19 cases. Hogan said the state was establishing a Surge Operation Center, which will help hospitals coordinate bed capacity. Hogan also said the state was working on a plan to make it easier for retired healthcare professionals and healthcare workers in other states to get temporary licenses in Maryland.
Massachusetts (divided government): On Dec. 13, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) announced the state would send 2.1 million COVID-19 at-home rapid tests to 100 towns with the highest percentage of families below the poverty line. Municipal governments will have the final say over how the tests are distributed to individuals.
Michigan (divided government): On Dec. 14, the Michigan Legislature passed an $841 million supplemental funding bill. The House passed the bill 94-9 and the Senate passed it 35-1. The bill, which is mostly made up of federal pandemic aid, includes $150 million to help schools test and screen for COVID-19 and $140 million for rent assistance. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) said she would sign the bill.
New York (Democratic trifecta): On Dec. 10, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) announced a new statewide mask requirement would take effect starting Dec. 13. Masks will be required regardless of vaccination status at indoor public settings, unless the business or venue requires proof of vaccination. Previously, New York had an indoor mask requirement that only applied to unvaccinated individuals.
Pennsylvania (divided government): On Dec. 10, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the statewide school mask requirement, upholding a lower court’s ruling that acting Health Secretary Alison Beam lacked the authority to require masks in schools.
Rhode Island (Democratic trifecta): On Dec. 13, Gov. Dan McKee (D) extended the state’s school mask requirement and coronavirus emergency order through Jan. 8, 2022.
Lawsuits about state actions and policies
To date, Ballotpedia has tracked 1,963 lawsuits in 50 states dealing in some way with the COVID-19 outbreak. Court orders have been issued, or settlements have been reached, in 609 of those lawsuits.
Since Dec. 9, we have added two lawsuits to our database. We have also tracked one additional court order and/or settlement.
- We the Patriots USA v. Hochul: On Dec. 13, the U.S. Supreme Court declined a request to temporarily bar enforcement of New York state’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers. Plaintiff healthcare workers, along with a group called We the Patriots USA, argued there should be religious exemptions to the New York mandate. New York’s mandate, which took effect in September, requires that workers in many different healthcare settings be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
- The Court’s decision came in the form of an unsigned order. Justice Neil Gorsuch (a Donald Trump (R) appointee), joined by Justice Samuel Alito (a George W. Bush (R) appointee), dissented, arguing that other vaccine mandates across the country have exemptions for individuals with religious objections to the COVID-19 vaccines. Gorsuch said that other jurisdictions have “found that [they] can satisfy [their] Covid-19 public health goals without coercing religious objectors to accept a vaccine.” Justice Clarence Thomas, a George H.W. Bush (R) appointee, indicated that he would also grant the application for relief, though he did not join in Gorsuch’s dissent.
As of Dec. 15, the states with the highest vaccination rates as a percentage of total population (including children) were:
- New Hampshire (Republican governor): 94%
- West Virginia (Republican governor): 89%
- Massachusetts (Republican governor): 88%
- Vermont (Republican governor): 88%
- Connecticut (Democratic governor): 87%
The states with the lowest rates were:
- Idaho (Republican governor): 52%
- Wyoming (Republican governor): 55%
- Mississippi (Republican governor): 55%
- Louisiana (Democratic governor): 57%
- Indiana (Republican governor): 57%
State mask requirements
Since Dec. 9, Rhode Island issued a new indoor mask requirement for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. California and New York expanded their indoor mask requirements for unvaccinated individuals to now apply to vaccinated individuals as well. As of Dec. 16, masks were required in ten states with Democratic governors. Thirteen states with Democratic governors and all 27 states with Republican governors had no state-level mask requirements in effect.
COVID-19 emergency health orders
Governors and state agencies in all 50 states issued orders declaring active emergencies in response to the coronavirus pandemic. These orders allowed officials to access resources, like stockpiles of medical goods and equipment, unavailable to them during non-emergencies and temporarily waive or suspend certain rules and regulations.
COVID-19 emergency orders have expired in 25 states. Emergency orders remain active in 25 states.
Since Dec. 9, no states have ended their statewide COVID-19 emergencies. Rhode Island extended its emergency order.
School mask requirements
Since Dec. 9, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the statewide school mask requirement.
State proof-of-vaccination requirements and policies
As COVID-19 vaccination rates have increased, state governments have enacted various rules around the use of proof-of-vaccination requirements in their states. In some cases, states have banned state or local governments from requiring that people show proof-of-vaccination. Other states have assisted in the creation of digital applications—sometimes known as vaccine passports—that allow people to prove their vaccination status and, in some cases, bypass COVID-19 restrictions.
- Twenty states have passed legislation or issued orders prohibiting proof-of-vaccination requirements at some or all levels of government.
- Five states have supported the creation of digital vaccination status applications.
Since Dec. 9, no states have enacted policies related to proof-of-vaccination requirements or digital vaccination status applications.
State employee and healthcare worker vaccine requirements
The Food and Drug Administration granted Emergency Use Authorization to several COVID-19 vaccines in late 2020 and early 2021. Since then, many states have required state employees and healthcare workers to get vaccinated. In some cases, states have allowed workers to opt for regular COVID-19 testing in lieu of getting a vaccine.
- Fifteen states have issued a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for healthcare workers.
- Twenty states have issued a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for state employees.
Since Dec. 9, no states have enacted policies related to state employee or healthcare worker vaccine requirements.