WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday said mask requirements for children would likely to start to fall away given federal plans to begin vaccinating children under the age of 5, but said it was probably premature to drop COVID mask requirements entirely.
Biden told NBC News in an interview that Omicron and other COVID-19 variants had had a "profound impact on the psyche of the American people" and conceded that changing guidelines for the wearing of masks were "confusing."
But Biden said he had tried to ensure that Americans had access to ample supplies of COVID vaccines, boosters and masks, and remained committed to following the advice of science advisers.
Asked if children should be required to wear masks in schools, Biden noted that 98% of schools were now open, compared to just 46% when he took office just over a year ago - and the reopenings were made possible by the wearing of masks.
He suggested, however, that could change when more children could be vaccinated. "Every day that goes by, children are more protected. We're now on the verge of being able to have shots ... for young children," he said. "And so the more protection they have, probably you're going to see less and less requirement to have the masks."
The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, told Reuters on Tuesday that the agency was sticking to its guidance for universal masking in schools given that COVID cases remained high nationwide.
Officials in New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, California and Oregon have said they plan to lift indoor mask mandates for K-12 public schools and other indoor spaces in coming weeks, seeking a return to normalcy as infections spurred by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus ebb.
And New York, Nevada and Massachusetts this week joined the growing list of states that have announced plans to loosen mask mandates.
Biden, asked if those governors were moving too fast, said it was hard to say if they were wrong given declining COVID cases. He said he understood Americans' desire to return to pre-COVID normalcy, but said his science advisers were still cautious.
"I think it's probably premature, but you know, it's a tough call," he said.
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