How Are States Responding to CDC Mask Guidelines?

Mask required sign outside of a store.

Michael Anthony / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Many states are lifting mask mandates.
  • Some states have banned mask mandates in government buildings.
  • Masks are still required on planes, buses, and trains.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear face masks in most situations to protect against the spread of COVID-19. Since that announcement, many states lifted their month-long mask mandates.

Masks are still required by federal mandate on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation, and in U.S. transportation hubs like airports and stations. But not all states have moved at the same pace, and some have even banned mask requirements following the CDC’s updated guidance.

“Given the epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that causes COVID-19], and the uptake of vaccination by at least 40% of the country, what we are seeing is less spread of disease,” Perry N. Halkitis, PhD, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health, tells Verywell. “As a result, in most states, mask mandates are being lifted in a variety of different ways.”

Stores also have their own policies, making it clear that masking is likely to be around at least for the foreseeable future. Here’s what’s happening with mask-wearing across the country.

Science and Politics Dictate Policies

Every state creates its own policies around wearing masks, and there is a variety. “Each state is being led, in part, by science and unfortunately, a lot of politics,” Halkitis says.

States like New York and Colorado are “making decisions based on science and are recognizing that people who are vaccinated present little risk to the spread of disease and their own health,” Halkitis says. As a result, they’ve lifted mask mandates in outdoor spaces.

Many, including California, still require masks in indoor spaces, particularly where large groups are gathered. “That is because, in spaces where there are many people, it is possible there are individuals who are not vaccinated,” Halkitis says. “As a result, they may continue to spread the disease and become sick themselves.” 

California Won’t End Its Mask Mandate Until June

California health officials announced on May 20 that the state will not lift its mask mandate until June 15.

This four-week period will give Californians time to prepare for this change while we continue our relentless focus on delivering vaccines, particularly in underserved communities,” Health and Human Service Secretary Mark Ghaly said in a statement. The state lifted its outdoor mask mandate, with an exception for crowded events and unvaccinated people, on May 3.

While the state received some criticism, doctors say the decision makes sense for such a big state that is still reporting hundreds of COVID-19 cases a day. “Decisions should be based on the most accurate and recent data about the number of cases and risk of transmission,” Richard Watkins, MD, an infectious disease physician and professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Verywell.

“States that are being led by governors who are using science and data to make decisions recognize that, in order to lift mandates, you have to follow the science closely,” Halkitis says. “What we have learned over the last year and a half is that each day presents more information to us. What is true one day may not be true the next day.”

Some States Banned Mask Mandates

Several states, including Florida and Texas, have banned mask mandates in any government entities, including counties and cities. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill that will eliminate all local COVID-19 restrictions and orders in the state by July 1. He also signed an executive order that suspends local emergency orders immediately, until that law goes into effect. 

“This is a political tool,” Halkitis says. “It’s being used by governors to score points with a particular segment of the population, but they are not based in science. It is very much like telling people in the 1980s you don’t ever have to wear a condom. Can you imagine at the height of the AIDS epidemic if a governor said that?”

It’s unclear at this point what impact the mask mandate ban will have on COVID-19 cases. “If we continue to see a decline in cases, it probably won't be detrimental,” Watkins says. “But if cases start to increase, then the need for mask mandates will have to be reconsidered.”

Banning Mask Mandates in Schools

Texas and Iowa banned school districts and individual schools from requiring that students and staff wear masks. Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order on May 18 forbidding governmental entities in the state, including school districts, from requiring or mandating that masks be worn.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds also signed a bill to prohibit mask mandates in schools. “The state of Iowa is putting parents back in control of their child’s education and taking greater steps to protect the rights of all Iowans to make their own health care decisions,” Reynolds said on Twitter after signing the bill.

Public schools in Iowa can require mask-wearing in schools through June 4. After that, schools can’t require masks on campus.

Halkitis calls mask bans in schools “deplorable” and “politically motivated.” “We should think very carefully about what we’re doing in our schools,” he says.

“The problem is that children under age 12 still can't be vaccinated, so they, unfortunately, are at increased risk of getting COVID-19,” Watkins adds.

There is also no information right now on how COVID-19 can impact children in the long run, Halkitis says. “We should take every step and precaution possible until we have reassurance that the vaccine is safe [for children] and we vaccinate all children attending schools,” he says.

What This Means For You

Mask policies currently differ from state to state and even store to store. Because there is so much variation, it’s still a good idea to carry a mask with you at all times—even if you’re fully vaccinated—just to be safe.

Store Policies Vary

Many big chain stores like Kroger, Starbucks, and Home Depot dropped mask mandates for people who are fully vaccinated. But, if a state requires masks, the store's customers must wear them, too.

At the same time, businesses with mask mandates in place are able to enforce them in states without mask mandates. “Private businesses can make whatever rules about masks they want,” Watkins says. “No matter what they decide, some customers will approve and some won't.” 

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When you’ve been fully vaccinated.

  2. California All. Tracking COVID-19 in California.

  3. State of Texas. Governor Abbott issues executive order prohibiting government entities from mandating masks.

  4. State of Florida. Governor Ron DeSantis signs landmark legislation to ban vaccine passports and stem government overreach.

  5. State of Florida. Office of the Governor Executive Order number 21-102.

  6. The Iowa Legislature. House file 847 - enrolled.

By Korin Miller
Korin Miller is a health and lifestyle journalist who has been published in The Washington Post, Prevention, SELF, Women's Health, The Bump, and Yahoo, among other outlets.