Blue States Reopen Their Economies but Double Down on Mask Mandates

Connecticut, California, Oregon, and Colorado have all signaled that their mask mandates will outlast their pandemic restrictions on businesses.


A growing number of Democratic governors have set end dates for their states' coronavirus business restrictions. At the same time, they're promising to keep mask mandates on the books for the foreseeable future.

On Monday, Connecticut Gov. Nathan Lamont (D) said that come May, bars that don't serve food will be allowed to reopen for outdoor service, an 8-person per table limit on diners will be lifted, and the state's 11 p.m. curfew will be extended to midnight.

Provided that cases stay low and vaccinations continue apace, the governor added, all remaining business restrictions will be lifted by May 19.

That's good news for the state's hospitality industry, which cheered the announcement. But it doesn't represent a full return to the pre-pandemic normal. Lamont made clear that the state's mask mandate would be extended beyond May 19.

"I think we're going to mandate that you continue to wear the mask in school… probably we're going to require indoor masking a little longer, until you're vaccinated," the governor said, according to the Hartford Courant. The state's existing mask mandate, the Courant reported, is supposed to expire on May 20, along with Lamont's emergency pandemic powers.

It's a similar story in California.

Earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced that so long as COVID-19 hospitalizations remain low and stable, and vaccine supply is sufficient to meet demand, the governor's tiered scheme of business restrictions would be revoked, and the whole state would be allowed to reopen.

Newsom, too, made a point of pairing his reopening announcement with a plea to continue mask wearing for the time being.

"We will need to remain vigilant, and continue the practices that got us here—wearing masks and getting vaccinated—but the light at the end of this tunnel has never been brighter," he said in a press release.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Newsom's announcement did not affect the state's mask mandate. The California Department of Public Health has since said that no changes will be made to the state's mask mandate until at least June 15.

In Oregon, where business restrictions are still very much in place, state regulators are actually moving to keep an existing, soon-to-expire mask mandate on the books with no expiration date in sight.

Come May 4, a temporary masking requirement issued by the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Oregon OSHA) will expire. That rule requires employers to ensure all individuals in the workplace—including employees, customers, clients, and vendors—wear face coverings.

In February, the agency started soliciting comments on a proposed rule that would extend a number of workplace safety regulations, including the mask mandate.

Oregon OSHA Administrator Michael Wood told the Associated Press this week that while the mask mandate will be repealed eventually, "it might not need to go away at exactly the same time the [governor's] State of Emergency is lifted."

The proposal to make this mask mandate open-ended has sparked a major backlash, reported the Associated Press, with many people expressing concern that the rule comes with no set expiration date or specific conditions for when it would be repealed.

Bureaucrats in Michigan, as Reason reported last week, have likewise moved to make a number of emergency pandemic regulations open-ended, including the state's mask mandate.

Last Friday, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) ended the state's "dial" system of business restrictions, turning the power of pandemic regulation over to local governments. A comprehensive state mask mandate—requiring everyone to wear face coverings when in indoor public spaces—has also been retracted.

However, the governor has kept in place a statewide requirement that people wear masks when in schools, childcare facilities, hospitals, government buildings, and personal service businesses like nail salons.

If these states are any guide, mask mandates will likely be the last pandemic policy to go in many Blue states. This perhaps shouldn't be surprising.

Whereas business owners have every interest in pushing for the repeal of costly restrictions on their operations, individual citizens are going to be less organized and less invested in ditching the requirement that they cover their faces in public.

But the sticking power of a mask mandate does not make the policy necessary or wise. The case for face coverings in public evaporates as the population becomes vaccinated.