Chicago teachers vow to fight order to drop mask mandates, Puerto Rico lifts restrictions

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With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continuing to fall significantly across the U.S., local, state and territory governments and schools have begun to remove mask mandates. 

The governor of Puerto Rico announced Monday that he would end a requirement for mask use indoors. 

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The shift on the island will take effect on Thursday and domestic travelers will no longer have to present proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test or fill out a currently required form beginning on March 10. 

Face masks will still be required in health facilities and nursing homes.

In addition, Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi will lift all capacity restrictions at public and private businesses and said proof of vaccination to enter will no longer be required. 

Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi in a 2020 file photo. 

Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi in a 2020 file photo. 
(AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

Vaccination requirements for public school students, restaurant employees and health workers will be lifted.

In the contiguous U.S., officials announced Monday that Chicago Public Schools will stop requiring face masks for staff and students beginning on March 14.

“CPS was one of the first to require universal masking in schools, and we would not be moving to a mask-optional model unless the data and our public health experts indicated that it is safe for our school communities,” CEO Pedro Martinez said in a statement.

The change applies inside school buildings, on school property and on school buses. 

However, students and employees will still be encouraged to wear masks, and especially those in schools with lower vaccination rates. 

MASK MANDATES GO AWAY IN SCHOOLS, BUT PARENT WORRIES PERSIST

Martinez pointed to other large school districts’ decisions to stop requiring face masks in recent weeks. 

On Monday, masks became optional in New York City schools and restaurants and cultural attractions could stop asking patrons for proof of vaccination.

Philadelphia is set to lift its mandate on Wednesday, joining several other big cities. 

CDC issues relaxed mask guidance

But in Chicago, Martinez’s s announcement drew immediate pushback from the Chicago Teachers Union, which plans to file an unfair labor practice charge with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board. 

“Our city is fortunate that the numbers around the COVID-19 pandemic have shifted, with deaths, hospitalizations and positive cases low,” the union said in a statement. “But CPS buildings are congregate settings where vaccination rates also remain low, especially in schools with majority Black and Brown students on the South and West sides of the city.” 

Meanwhile, in New York City, a group of parents plans to sue Mayor Eric Adams over his continuing mask mandates for children 4 and under in schools.

Leaders have cited falling infection rates and new federal health guidance, but those hesitant about ending school mask mandates often point to low childhood vaccination rates among American children. 

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Only about a quarter of children ages 5 to 11 have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

The CDC recently issued guidelines saying that most Americans live in areas where healthy people can remove their masks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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