On August 1, 2022, Hawaii lifted its statewide school mask requirement, making it the final state in the nation to do so. The Hawaii Department of Health announced the change on July 12.
Thirty-five states required masks in schools at some point since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some requirements specifically covered schools, while others were by-products of a general statewide mask requirement.
Maryland and Washington were the first states to issue school reopening guidance requiring masks in schools, both on June 10, 2020. Both requirements ended in March 2022.
Hawaii’s school mask requirement was the longest in the nation, lasting from July 15, 2020, to August 1, 2022. North Dakota had the shortest statewide school mask requirement. It lasted from November 14, 2020, to January 18, 2021.
Nine states have banned school mask requirements, five of which had previously required masks in schools. Arkansas’ ban was the first to take effect on April 28, 2021. The ban was later suspended by court action on Sept. 30, 2021.
The most recent ban took effect in Iowa on May 16, 2022. The state had initially instituted the policy on May 20, 2021, but parts of the ban were temporarily suspended by court action after its passage.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R), joined by 20 Republican and Democratic attorneys general, filed a lawsuit on March 29, 2022, in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida that aims to end the Biden administration’s federal mask mandate for public transport. The mandate, issued by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is in place through April 18, 2022, and requires individuals to wear masks in transportation hubs and on public transportation. Eighteen Republican-led states (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia) and three states led by Democratic governors (Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana) joined in the lawsuit. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) filed a similar lawsuit on Feb. 16, 2022, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas.
The states argue that the federal mask mandate exceeds the CDC’s statutory authority and harms the states’ sovereign interests. The plaintiffs contend that the law does not permit the CDC to issue economy-wide mandates for noninfected individuals and violates the nondelegation doctrine by granting the CDC lawmaking power. The plaintiffs also claim that the mandate harms states’ sovereign interests by enforcing agency action that contradicts state law in some areas.
Moody argued, “President Biden’s shortsighted, heavy-handed and unlawful travel policies are frustrating travelers and causing chaos on public transportation. It’s long past time to alleviate some of the pressure on travelers and those working in the travel industry by immediately ending Biden’s unlawful public transportation mandates.”
The CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services had not issued a response to the lawsuit as of April 4, 2022.
The last remaining statewide mask requirement in the country ended in Hawaii on March 26. Governor David Ige (D) announced the end of the requirement on March 8, bookending a series of 10 other states ending their mask requirements throughout February and March.
Since New Jersey enacted the first statewide mask requirement in response to the coronavirus pandemic on April 10, 2020, Ballotpedia has tracked such requirements across the 50 states.
Thirty-nine states implemented statewide mask requirements over the course of the pandemic, 17 of which currently have Republican governors, and 22 have Democratic governors. Five states with Democratic governors that allowed a statewide order to fully expire later reinstated a mask order. One state (New York) had its mask requirement overturned by a court then reinstated by higher court action the same day. Thirty-six states ended mask requirements through executive order, two (Kansas and Utah) ended mask requirements through legislative action, and one (Wisconsin) ended its mandate through a court order.
The chart below shows the total number of days each state had a mask requirement in place since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
New Jersey issued the first statewide mask requirement on April 10, 2020.
Mississippi had the shortest mask requirement, lasting 56 days.
The shortest statewide mask requirement in a state with a Democratic governor was in Wisconsin, which lasted 242 days.
The longest statewide mask requirement was in Hawaii, which lasted 704 days.
The longest statewide mask requirement in a state with a Republican governor was in Maryland, which lasted 393 days.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) and the Texas Public Policy Foundation on Feb. 16, 2022, filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas aiming to block enforcement of the Biden administration’s federal mask mandate for public transport. The mandate, issued by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is in place through March 2022, according to CNN, and requires individuals to wear masks in transportation hubs and on public transportation (e.g., airplanes, buses, trains, boats, and taxis).
The lawsuit argues that the mask mandate is unconstitutional because the CDC does not have the authority to issue the order. The plaintiffs claim in part that CDC’s statutory authority does not allow the agency to enforce preventative measures against individuals of unknown infection status. The plaintiffs also claim that the mandate violates the nondelegation doctrine by transferring lawmaking power to the executive branch. Congress, according to the plaintiffs, unconstitutionally delegated lawmaking power to CDC when it failed to enact appropriate statutory limits to prevent the agency from making new laws, such as the mask mandate.
The CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services had not issued a response to the lawsuit as of Feb. 24, 2022.
Governors or agencies in four states announced they would end their school mask mandates on Feb. 7
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) became the first governor to lift a statewide school mask requirement during the 2021-2022 school year. The requirement is set to end on March 7. New Jersey has required masks in school since August 2020 when the state Department of Education issued its school reopening guidelines.
Delaware Gov. John Carney (D) announced the state would extend its school mask requirement, then lift the requirement on March 31. He also announced the statewide mask requirement would end on Feb. 11. Carney first signed an executive order establishing the school mask requirement in August 2020, prior to the reopening of schools in Delaware.
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) announced the state would lift its school mask requirement on Feb. 28. Masks have been required in Connecticut schools since June 2020, when Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona announced school reopening guidelines.
The Oregon Health Authority announced the state would lift its school mask requirement on March 31. The organization also said it would lift the statewide indoor mask mandate on March 31. Oregon has required masks in school since June 2020, when the Oregon Department of Education released its reopening guidance.
The three governors and the health authority said a decline in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in their states, along with vaccine availability, influenced their decisions to lift the mandates.
In Illinois, Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Raylene Grischow issued a ruling on Feb. 4 temporarily suspending enforcement of Illinois’ statewide school mask requirement, among other coronavirus-related school policies. Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) said he planned to appeal the decision. Illinois has required masks in schools since June 2020, when Pritzker released school reopening guidance.
In her decision, Grischow wrote: “The [Illinois Department of Public Health] is limited by law to delegating its authority only to certified local health departments and has not been authorized by the Legislature to delegate any of its authority to any other body of government, including school districts.”
Pritzker released a statement after the ruling, saying: “The grave consequence of this misguided decision is that schools in these districts no longer have sufficient tools to keep students and staff safe while COVID-19 continues to threaten our communities – and this may force schools to go remote.”
Seven statewide school mask requirements have ended or are set to end during the current academic year. New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, and Oregon will end requirements by executive action. Mask requirements in Pennsylvania and Illinois were ended by court action, and Kentucky’s was ended by legislative action.
Besides the four states that have announced end dates for their school mask requirements, ten other states have statewide school mask requirements. All 14 states have Democratic governors. As of Feb. 8, before the announced end dates took effect, 29 states left mask requirements in schools up to local authorities and seven states banned school mask requirements.
As students across the country begin returning to school for the 2021-2022 academic year, 13 states require masks in public schools while seven ban them.
As of Aug. 10, eleven states require masks for all K-12 students and staff: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington. Nevada requires masks in districts with more than 100,000 residents. New Mexico requires unvaccinated people and all students and staff in elementary schools to wear masks.
Seven states have banned mask requirements in schools: Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah. Arkansas’ school mask requirement is temporarily suspended. Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) called a special session of the Arkansas General Assembly, asking they create an exception in Act 1002 to allow local authorities to implement mask requirements for students too young to be vaccinated. The Assembly did not alter the law. Hours after the session ended on Aug. 6, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox issued an injunction against Act 1002.
Thirty states, including Arkansas, left school mask requirement decisions up to local authorities.