PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The announcements by Democratic governors in New Jersey and Delaware that they will end their school mask mandates next month has put renewed attention on when Gov. Dan McKee will do the same in Rhode Island.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is removing the requirement for schools effective March 7, while Delaware Gov. John Carney is doing the same effective March 31.

“Balancing public health with getting back to some semblance of normalcy is not easy,” Murphy tweeted Monday. “But we can responsibly take this step due to declining COVID numbers and growth in vaccinations.”

Later Monday, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont proposed ending the statewide mask mandate as of Feb. 28, leaving it to local school districts to decide whether they should keep the requirement in place after that point.

McKee, a first-term Democrat, was hesitant to impose a school mask mandate last summer but eventually opted to issue an executive order putting one in place amid a push from health and education officials. Cases were on the rise at the time as the delta variant spread in Rhode Island.

Last week McKee extended the order requiring masks in schools through Feb. 14, after which it can only continue if the General Assembly votes to let him keep it in place due to a new 180-day limit on such orders. Legislative committees have set votes for Tuesday on bills which would grant McKee that authority.

Matt Sheaff, a spokesperson for McKee, said Monday afternoon that the governor and his advisers are actively reviewing how much longer students and teachers should continue to wear masks, though no decisions have been made.

“Given the current COVID trends as well as conversations with local school officials, including superintendents, school committees and the unions, and conversations with governors in neighboring states, Governor McKee is evaluating when the right time would be to move on the executive order requiring masks in school,” Sheaff said.

McKee has spoken with both Lamont and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker as the three neighboring states review their policies on masks in schools, and he is also discussing the matter with the R.I. Department of Health, according to Sheaff.

One consideration, Sheaff said, is that “we’d want to give enough notice to districts and local school committees” before any changes take effect.

The governor is expected to address the issue at a coronavirus briefing on Wednesday.

Data released Monday by the Department of Health showed Rhode Island’s transmission rate for the past seven days was still classified as “high,” with 504 cases per 100,000 residents. The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized fell to 286, while five more individuals died after contracting the virus.

Dr. James McDonald, interim director of the R.I. Department of Health, said during an interview on 12 News at 4 last week that he wasn’t ready to give a timeline for lifting the mask mandate in schools.

“If you follow the case counts, as we get closer toward moderate transmission — meaning less than 50 cases per 100,000 [residents] per week — we’re all going to feel a lot more comfortable,” McDonald said, adding that the strain on hospitals is also a consideration.

“I’d rather not commit to a time, but commit more to, like, what is the pandemic actually doing in our state?” McDonald said.

Appearing Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said he expected an increasing number of governors will move to end their school mask mandates as the omicron wave crests and widespread vaccinations provide additional protection.

“We’re at a point where we can safely contemplate that,” Gottlieb said. The goal, he said, is to “try to at least make sure that students in schools have some semblance of normalcy for this spring term. A lot of kids haven’t really known a normal school day for two years now.”

Ted Nesi ( is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook