Blue state leaders herald end to COVID restrictions: The Note

"We are not going to manage COVID to zero," Gov. Phil Murphy said on Twitter.

February 8, 2022, 7:22 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

The end of COVID, whatever that might mean, will not be determined by declarations of elected leaders or candidates for office.

But Democratic officials who have long endorsed and upheld strict COVID restrictions are starting to change their tunes and their official guidance -- often in ways that put them at odds with the Biden administration's recommendations.

PHOTO: Governor Phil Murphy announces that masks will no longer be mandated for students, staff, or visitors in schools and childcare centers effective March 7 during a coronavirus briefing in Trenton, N.J., Feb. 7, 2022.
Governor Phil Murphy announces that masks will no longer be mandated for students, staff, or visitors in schools and childcare centers effective March 7 during a coronavirus briefing in Trenton, N.J., Feb. 7, 2022.
Tanya Breen/The Record via USA Today Network

On Monday, Delaware Gov. John Carney said his state's indoor mask mandate would expire this Friday, with mandates for schools ending March 31. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced that his mask mandate in schools would be lifted at the end of the month. Oregon also set a March 31 date to lift the statewide mandate.

In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy -- long a prominent promoter of rigorous COVID restrictions -- said his state will phase out the mask mandate in schools next month, leaving local school districts to decide. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is promising an update on mask and vaccine guidelines in her state on Wednesday.

"We are not going to manage COVID to zero," Murphy said on Twitter. "We have to learn how to live with COVID as we move from a pandemic to an endemic phase of this virus."

The leaders named above are all Democrats whose moves are coming despite the CDC’s recommendation that high-quality masks continue to be worn in crowded indoor situations, so long as case numbers remain high. The moves have come in quick succession, just after new data from Johns Hopkins show the U.S. death toll from COVID surpassing 900,000.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki downplayed any tensions with the governors, saying the issue has “always been up to local school districts.”

It’s worth noting this Democratic push to lift mandates won’t take effect for several weeks -- presumably after the omicron wave is over and case counts are low. That would still be in line with CDC guidance to consider community transmission.

But there’s no doubt President Joe Biden is now under serious pressure from members of his own party to steer the nation into a sense of normalcy.

It may be that he and a range of friendly governors in nearby states are seeing both the science and the political realities in winding down some of the most controversial restrictions of the COVID era.

The RUNDOWN with Averi Harper

The fallout from the Republican National Committee's censure of Reps. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., and Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., for their involvement in the Jan. 6 congressional committee continues with more than 140 prominent Republicans signing on to a statement condemning the move.

"By censuring Congresswoman Liz Cheney and Congressman Adam Kinzinger for their role in investigating the January 6th attacks, they have betrayed the GOP's founding principles and ceded control of a once-great movement to grifters and extremists," reads the statement.

PHOTO: Rep. Liz Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger attend a meeting of the House select committee tasked with investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Oct. 19, 2021.
Rep. Liz Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger attend a meeting of the House select committee tasked with investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Oct. 19, 2021.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP, FILE

Signatories include former members of Congress, former RNC officials and former White House officials from three Republican administrations, including former President Donald Trump's.

Kinzinger himself shot back at the RNC in interviews Monday.

"I think it says that they are completely unmoored from truth. I think it shows that they have pledged allegiance to one man over any kind of principle and they can call that like loyalty, they call that conservatism," said Kinzinger. "Conservatism is no longer about what you actually believe. It's about how intensely you're loyal to Donald Trump."

The House select committee is expected to deliver a report on its findings this summer, but the clock is ticking. If the GOP takes the House during midterm elections, Republicans could quash the committee altogether.

The TIP with Alisa Wiersema

Georgia experienced another round of political musical chairs on Monday, with Vernon Jones announcing his withdrawal from the gubernatorial race. In a statement, Jones, a former Democrat-turned-Republican, said he is throwing his support behind former Sen. David Perdue, who has Trump's endorsement. Jones also announced he would be seeking another political office.

"I'd like to thank the thousands of Georgians that welcomed me into their homes and communities. I would ask for their continued support as I seek to represent them in the United States Congress," Jones said. Jones has yet to mention where he plans to run.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump attends a rally in support of Sen. David Perdue in Valdosta, Ga., Dec. 5, 2020.
President Donald Trump attends a rally in support of Sen. David Perdue in Valdosta, Ga., Dec. 5, 2020.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images, FILE

Jones' backing of Perdue over Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp indicates a continued, Trump-aligned rallying cry over the fallout of the 2020 election. As a side effect, the May primary faceoff between the two remaining high-profile candidates could further polarize voters within the Republican party before potentially heading into a runoff. Georgia Democrats, including Democratic gubernatorial contender Stacey Abrams, are already seizing on that potential scenario.

"The Republican primary is now a two-candidate race of David Perdue and Brian Kemp, whose nasty fight will do nothing to help our state. As Kemp and Perdue fight each other, Stacey Abrams will be fighting for Georgia," Abrams' campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo said in a statement.

NUMBER OF THE DAY, powered by FiveThirtyEight

47. That's the percentage of Americans who identified as a Republican or said they leaned toward the GOP in Gallup's most recent quarterly political affiliation survey. It was 5 percentage points higher than the share of Americans who identified as Democrats or leaned toward the Democratic Party, which is notable considering Democrats typically have an advantage on this metric. But as Geoffrey Skelley and Mary Radcliffe write for FiveThirtyEight, it's still way too soon to know whether the numbers suggest an actual shift in how Americans are identifying politically.

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" Podcast. Start Here leads off Tuesday morning with former White House official Andy Slavitt and his take on what it means to “live with” COVID. Then, ABC's Catherine Thorbecke explains why automakers are still dealing with a chip shortage. And, ABC's Ines De La Cuetara reports from Paris on the debate over looted African art in museums.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

  • President Joe Biden has lunch with Vice President Kamala Harris at 12 p.m. At 1:45 p.m., Biden delivers remarks on manufacturing jobs and lowering energy costs with the secretary of transportation and the secretary of energy in attendance. Biden and Harris then receive a closed economic briefing at 2:45 p.m.
  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki holds a briefing at 2 p.m.
  • The Senate Armed Services holds a nomination hearing at 9:30 a.m. for Lt. Gen. Michael E. Kurilla to be general and head the U.S. Central Command.
  • The House Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing at 10 a.m. on justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in environmental policymaking.
  • The Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing to examine protecting youth mental health at 10 a.m.
  • The House Armed Services Committee holds a hearing at 2 p.m. on military personnel talent management modernization and the effects of legacy policies.
  • Download the ABC News app and select "The Note" as an item of interest to receive the day's sharpest political analysis.

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