As coronavirus cases and deaths continue to fall in many states, political leaders are facing decisions on when to loosen restrictions meant to help curb the spread of Covid-19.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has said his state is reopening 100%, and as of next Wednesday people in the Lone Star State won't be required to wear a face covering. Mississippi, North Dakota, Iowa and Montana have also lifted, or will soon lift, mask mandates.
Some critics have said the moves are premature given the potential for more transmissible variants to prompt another surge and that the baseline number of coronavirus cases is still high.
California, home to some of the country's favorite amusement parks and sports teams, will allow parkgoers and fans to potentially go in beginning April 1.
'We feel like now is the appropriate time to begin to reintroduce these activities in some fashion, and in a guarded way, in a slow and steady way,' state Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said Friday in a teleconference.
Theme parks, sports and concert venues have been shuttered in California for nearly a year.
There will be capacity restrictions tied to Covid-19 numbers and places like Disneyland, Magic Mountain and Universal Studios can only let state residents reserve admission. And California still has a face covering requirement in public spaces.
Meanwhile, other states are extending mask mandates.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed an order Friday to extend his state's mandate for another 30 days. And Arizona and West Virginia are keeping theirs, too, even as the governors on Friday announced they will lift capacity limits at places like restaurants and bars.
'We've got over half, well over half, of our total population in this state that's above 65 years of age and older that have gotten shots and that are protected,' West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said.
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont on Friday defended his decision to reopen some businesses at full capacity with a mask mandate.
'So many of our people -- well over 20% -- have been vaccinated, the vast majority of whom are over 55, where you're most likely to suffer complications. Our hospitalization is down. So, we thought, this is something we know we can do safely,' Lamont said.
Though the rates of infections, hospitalizations and deaths have decreased in many states since January, tens of thousands of Americans are still being infected daily. There were more than 50,000 new cases and 2,200 deaths reported Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
CDC guidance coming soon for the vaccinated
Covid-19 cases and death rates slow down in counties where states require masks, according to data released Friday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And in counties where states allow on-site restaurant dining, illness and death rates appear to speed up.
'This report is a critical reminder that with the current levels of Covid-19 in communities and the continued spread of more transmissible coronavirus variants -- which have now been detected in 48 states -- strictly following prevention measures remains essential for putting an end to this pandemic,' said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. 'It also serves as a warning about premature lifting of these prevention measures.'
Meantime, CDC guidance for people who have been vaccinated is coming soon, Walensky said. The guidance had been expected to release this week.
'Our goal and what is most important is that people who have been vaccinated and those not yet vaccinated are able to understand the steps they can take to protect themselves and their loved ones,' she said.
Fauci says it's still too soon
Dr. Anthony Fauci said the decision by some states to do away with mask mandates and allow businesses to open at full capacity was 'inexplicable.'
The US shouldn't ease restrictions in place to prevent Covid-19 before the number of new cases falls below 10,000 daily, 'and maybe even considerably less than that,' the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said Thursday.
The last time the US saw fewer than 10,000 new daily cases was almost a year ago, on March 22.
'We're now up to about 2 million vaccinations per day,' Fauci said. 'That means every day that goes by, every week that goes by, you have more and more people protected.'
Push to vaccinate teachers and reopen schools
Many states are putting a priority on vaccinating teachers and school staff to reopen campuses as soon as possible.
Thirty-eight states and Washington, DC, allow teachers to receive the vaccine. And two more may soon be added to the list.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said those who work in education and child care will be among the 300,000 to 400,000 additional residents eligible for the vaccine next week.
And Rhode Island officials likely will announce a plan next week to 'get shots in the arm of all teachers and school staff,' Gov. Daniel McKee said.
California, meanwhile, will invest billions of dollars in reopening schools, with Gov. Gavin Newsom signing the funding into law on Friday.
The state is home to more than 1,000 school districts that will be eligible to receive up to $2 billion in incentives if they reopen by the end of March. Another $4.6 billion will go toward addressing learning loss induced by a year of online learning.
The law, which garnered bipartisan support, will also fund personal protective equipment, ventilation improvements, testing and contact tracing.