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James McAllister

James McAllister is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

Mississippi lifts mask restrictions; Texas, Alabama announce dates for ending requirements

Thirty-nine states issued statewide mask requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, the governors of Alabama and Texas announced dates for lifting statewide mask requirements, and the governor of Mississippi lifted the state’s regional mask requirement. As a result, six of the original thirty-nine states with statewide mask requirements have now lifted or announced dates to lift them.

Mississippi had a statewide mask requirement from Aug. 5-Sept. 30, 2020, followed by a regional mask requirement that applied in 75 of 82 counties. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) lifted the regional mask requirement on March 3, though the state still requires masks in K-12 school buildings.

Reeves’ order also lifted gathering restrictions for individuals. Large indoor venues like arenas with ticketed seating are limited to 50% seating capacity. Previously, only 10 people could gather indoors and 50 could gather outdoors.

On March 2, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued an order, effective March 10, ending the statewide mask mandate and allowing all businesses to open at 100% capacity. If COVID-19 hospitalizations get above 15% of hospital bed capacity in any of the state’s 22 hospital regions for seven consecutive days, then a county judge may impose some restrictions. Those restrictions cannot include capacity limits below 50%, however. The order also prohibits jurisdictions from penalizing people for not wearing face coverings. Texas’ mask order was first implemented July 3.

On March 4, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) extended the state’s coronavirus emergency order, including the mask requirement, until 5:00 p.m. on April 9. Ivey said she will let the mask order expire on April 9. Ivey first issued the statewide mask requirement on July 16.

Thirty-five states currently have statewide mask orders, including all 23 states with Democratic governors and 12 out of the 27 states with Republican governors.



Minnesota reopens middle, high schools to in-person instruction

In Minnesota, all middle and high school students were permitted to return to the classroom for either full-time in-person or hybrid instruction starting Feb. 22. Gov. Tim Walz (D) said he expects all schools to offer some in-person instruction by March 8. Parents can still opt to keep their children home for remote instruction.

Previously, high schools and middle schools could only reopen if local health officials approved reopening based on county health data. Elementary schools were allowed to open regardless of COVID-19 case data on Jan. 18.

Nationwide:

  • Four states (Calif., Del., Hawaii, N.M.) and Washington, D.C. had state-ordered regional school closures, required closures for certain grade levels, or allowed hybrid instruction only.
  • Four states (Ark., Fla., Iowa, Texas) had state-ordered in-person instruction.
  • One state (W.Va.) had state-ordered in-person instruction for certain grades.
  • Forty-one states left decisions to schools or districts.


Iowa requires public schools to offer full-time, in-person instruction

On Feb. 15, Iowa public schools were required to start offering full-time, in-person instruction for all grades. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) signed the bill enacting the mandate on Jan. 29. The bill, which passed the state House and Senate with the support of all Republicans and one Democrat, allows parents to request a hybrid or all remote option for their children. Schools can request a waiver from the requirement to provide in-person instruction from the state Department of Education based on factors such as the number of teachers quarantining because of the virus.

Previously, Iowa public schools had to provide at least half-time, in-person instruction. Gov. Reynolds issued the part-time order on July 17, 2020. 

Iowa is one of five states that require schools to open at least partially for in-person instruction. 

  • West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) required all public and private pre-K, elementary, and middle schools to resume full-time, in-person or hybrid (at least two in-person days every week) instruction, regardless of their county’s transmission rates, on Jan. 19.
  • The Florida Department of Education ordered public schools to reopen at least five days per week for all students no later than Aug. 31, 2020.
  • Arkansas Education Secretary Johnny Key ordered public schools to offer in-person instruction five days per week, starting no later than Aug. 26, 2020.
  • The Texas Education Agency required public schools to offer daily in-person instruction options, or risk losing state funding, no later than Oct. 19. The agency’s order allowed schools to stay remote for the first eight weeks of the school calendar year, which began on Aug. 24, 2020.

In Chicago, the third-largest school district in the country, the first wave of students (pre-K and special education students) returned to in-person classroom instruction on Feb. 11. The Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools reached a reopening agreement on Feb. 9. Under the plan, K-5 students will return for hybrid instruction (two days per week in-person) on March 1. Students in grades 6-8 will return on the hybrid schedule starting March 8.



Four states have ended their statewide mask requirements

New Jersey became the first state to implement a statewide mask order in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on April 10, 2020. Seven other states implemented mask orders later in April 2020 and, in total, 39 states have issued statewide mask requirements at some point during the pandemic.

In recent weeks, states have begun to repeal mask requirements or allow them to expire. Today, thirty-five states have statewide mask orders, including all 23 states with Democratic governors and 12 out of the 27 states with Republican governors.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) announced he is letting the state’s face-covering requirement expire on Feb. 12. Former Gov. Steve Bullock (D) issued the face-covering requirement on July 15, 2020. 

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) lifted her state’s mask order on Feb. 7. Reynolds first issued the face-covering requirement on Nov. 17.

The Wisconsin State Assembly also voted 52-42 on a resolution to end the statewide mask mandate and coronavirus public health emergency on Feb. 4. In response, Gov. Tony Evers (D) immediately issued two new orders reestablishing the public health emergency and mask mandate. All Democrats and seven Republicans voted against the resolution. Republican legislative leadership is challenging the mandate in the state Supreme Court. The Wisconsin State Senate voted 18-13 to overturn Gov. Tony Evers’s (D) coronavirus emergency order on Jan. 26. 

Mississippi became the first state to lift a statewide mask requirement on Sept. 30, 2020, followed by North Dakota on Jan. 18, 2021. Montana is the fourth state to lift a statewide mask order. Iowa was the third state to lift a statewide public mask mandate. All four states that have lifted statewide face covering requirements have Republican governors.



Iowa lifts statewide face-covering requirement

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) issued an order easing coronavirus restrictions, effective Feb. 7. The order lifted the statewide mask mandate and limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings. Reynolds first issued the face-covering requirement on Nov. 17, requiring everyone two years or older to wear masks in indoor spaces open to the public where social distancing could not be maintained.

Iowa is the third state to lift a statewide public mask mandate. Mississippi’s statewide order expired Sept. 30, 2020, and North Dakota’s order expired Jan. 18, 2021.

Thirty-six states currently have statewide mask orders, including all 23 states with Democratic governors and 13 out of the 27 states with Republican governors.



North Carolina releases new school reopening guidance

On Feb. 2, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) announced new school guidance and encouraged public K-12 schools to reopen for full-time in-person instruction. The guidance says elementary schools should reopen under Plan A, which does not require social distancing. Middle and high schools should reopen under Plan B, which does require social distancing. Districts still have to provide a remote learning option for families that choose to opt in to remote learning. 

Cooper said he wants to leave the final reopening decisions to school districts. Previously, the state only permitted hybrid or fully remote instruction for middle and high school students.

Nationwide:

• Washington, D.C. has a district-ordered school closure.

• Five states (Calif., Del., Hawaii, N.M., W.Va.) has state-ordered regional school closures, required closures for certain grade levels, or allowed hybrid instruction only.

• Four states (Ark., Fla., Iowa, Texas) has state-ordered in-person instruction.

• Forty-one states leave decisions to schools or districts.

Additional Reading:



New Mexico, West Virginia allow schools to reopen after holiday closures

Starting Jan. 19, all public and private pre-K, elementary, and middle schools in West Virginia were required to resume full-time in-person or hybrid (at least two in-person days every week) instruction, regardless of their county’s coronavirus transmission rates. High schools were still required to close if located in counties the Department of Health and Human Resources classified as red in the County Alert System map.

Schools in areas of New Mexico with lower coronavirus transmission rates were permitted to begin reopening for in-person or hybrid instruction on Jan. 18.  

New Mexico and West Virginia had ordered schools closed for in-person instruction since the beginning of January to mitigate holiday virus spread. 

The nationwide status of school closures and reopenings is as follows:

• Washington, D.C., had a district-ordered school closure.

• Six states (Calif., Del., Hawaii, N.C., N.M., W.Va.) had state-ordered regional school closures, required closures for certain grade levels, or allowed hybrid instruction only.

• Four states (Ark., Fla, Iowa, Texas) had state-ordered in-person instruction.

• Forty states left decisions to schools or districts.



30 state legislative races were decided by fewer than 100 votes in 2020

Thirty (0.5%) of the 5,875 state legislative races in 2020 were decided by fewer than 100 votes. Twenty-nine of the 30 races were in state houses, and one was in a state senate.

Partisan control changed in 15 (50%) of the 30 races. Thirteen of the partisan changes (43.3% of the 30 races) were Republican pickups, and two (6.67%) were Democratic pickups. Fifteen seats did not change partisan control.

Of the 86 state legislative chambers that held elections in 2020, 14 (16.3%) had at least one race that was decided by fewer than 100 votes.

The narrowest margin in any state legislative election last November was for a seat in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. Incumbent Timothy Fontneau (D) defeated Harrison deBree (R) by a margin of four votes.

The New Hampshire House of Representatives had 11 races decided by fewer than 100 votes—more than any other chamber. As of 2010, there were, on average, 3,291 people in each New Hampshire House district, making them the smallest state legislative districts in the country.

The Vermont House of Representatives had five races decided by fewer than 100 votes—the second-highest number after the New Hampshire House. As of 2010, there were, on average, 4,172 people in each Vermont House district, making them the second-smallest state legislative districts in the country.

Most of the races took place in districts with small population sizes compared to the rest of the country. Twenty-four races (80%) were in districts with a population of less than 25,000. Districts that size made up 26.3 percent of all state legislative districts as of 2010.



New York, Kentucky ease school restrictions, New Mexico, West Virginia start temporary school closures

On Jan. 4, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced schools could remain open in communities with 9% or greater positivity rates if positivity among students and school staff was lower than in the surrounding community. Previously, the state required schools to close in communities where the positivity rate was 9% or greater.

The same day, Kentucky’s Healthy at School guidelines became mandatory and middle and high schools were allowed to reopen for in-person instruction.

Temporary statewide school closures also began in New Mexico and West Virginia. New Mexico’s closure is effective through Jan. 15, while schools in West Virginia are closed through Jan. 18. 

The nationwide status of school closures and reopenings is as follows:

  1. Two states (N.M., W.Va.) and Washington, D.C. have state- or district-ordered school closures
  2. 2016-17 enrollment: 695,968 students (1.38% of students nationwide)
  3. Five states (Calif., Del., Hawaii, N.C., R.I.) have state-ordered regional school closures, require closures for certain grade levels, or allow hybrid instruction only
  4. 2016-17 enrollment: 8,319,164 students (16.44% of students nationwide)
  5. Four states (Ark., Fla., Iowa, Texas) have state-ordered in-person instruction
  6. 2016-17 enrollment: 9,180,918 students (18.15% of students nationwide)
  7. Thirty-nine states leave decisions to schools or districts
  8. 2016-17 enrollment: 32,391,809 students (64.03% of students nationwide)


Wyoming becomes 38th state with an active mask requirement

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon (R) issued an order, effective December 9, requiring face coverings in all businesses open to the public, on public transportation, at medical facilities (like hospitals, doctors offices, and veterinary clinics), and in non-federal government buildings. The order is scheduled to expire on Jan. 8. 

Thirty-eight states have active statewide orders requiring individuals to wear masks in indoor or outdoor public spaces. All 24 states with a Democratic governor have statewide mask orders, while 14 out of 26 Republican states require face coverings.

States issued mask requirements mask requirements in the following months:

  • One new order has been issued in December.
  • Four orders were first issued in November.
  • Three orders were first issued in August.
  • 13 orders were first issued in July.
  • Four orders were first issued in June.
  • Six orders were first issued in May.
  • Eight orders were first issued in April.

Mississippi is the only state that has allowed a statewide mask requirement to expire. The statewide order lasted August 5 through September 30 and was replaced by a regional face-covering order.