As more students began returning for in-person learning, schools became battlegrounds over mask mandates. But as COVID-19 cases decline, state and local authorities across the U.S. have started to roll back mask policies.
Schoolchildren in California, Oregon and Washingtonto wear masks under new policies starting next week. Virginia and New York are dropping their requirements this week.
CBS News spoke to four mothers in Virginia about the difficulties they've faced during the pandemic. They told "CBS Evening News" anchor and managing editor Norah O'Donnell that they've come to different decisions about mask-wearing for their families, but all agreed that it's not easy parenting during a pandemic.
Two of the mothers said their children will continue wearing masks, while one said she is fine if her kids are unmasked but her daughter has decided to wear a mask. The fourth mother said her son was excited to no longer have to wear one at school.
"It's a pretty easy decision for us," Christina Headrick said. "The classrooms are crowded, and we know that the school buildings aren't very well ventilated. I asked my kids, 'Would you like to continue to wear a mask if that's an option?' And they were like, 'Mom, of course we want to.'"
Saranga Blaser said her daughter asked if she had to stop wearing a mask. "And she said, 'Yeah, I don't feel safe taking off my mask right now,'" Blaser said.
Miranda Turner said her oldest daughter, who has had COVID, didn't want to get sick again or spread the virus, but her daughter also mentioned that she found comfort in wearing a mask.
"They give me some pause as a parent in terms of how much she's carrying for feeling like she's responsible for other people getting or not getting a virus," Turner said.
Courtney Mooney said her family has been around other families unmasked for much of the pandemic to give their children a sense of normalcy.
"I think my child has come through this very well because of it, in a lot of ways," Mooney said. "He is extremely excited to be able to not wear a mask at school. He loves to smile at people."
The pandemic was difficult for Mooney's 10-year-old son, an only child, because on most days he was isolated from other children, she said.
Mooney also said she took issue with inconsistent COVID policies, such as public spaces like restaurants and retail businesses being mask-optional in many areas, while schools have had mask mandates.
"For some reason, we've decided that school is this only place that kids aren't allowed freedom and flexibility," Mooney said.
COVID vaccines, which are available for people ages 5 and older, have also changed the calculation for some.
"Things have changed dramatically. We have a widely available vaccine. We have high-quality masks that kids can wear if they choose to protect themselves. And I think that things are just much different," Turner said.
Blaser said mask-wearing feels like a normal part of everyday life.
"To me, it's become so normal," she said. "My kids would be just as freaked out about taking off their seatbelt while I was driving as they would be to take off their masks indoors."
While the mothers have differing opinions, they each acknowledged that they're trying to make the best decisions for their families as they navigate the pandemic.
"I think one thing that we have in common is the amount of stress that it's placed on parents," Blaser said.
It may not be as easy to recognize those commonalities because people have been isolated during the pandemic, Turner said.
"The pandemic isolated all of us from each other, too," Turner added. "So, all of these conversations are not happening organically at the soccer field or the PTA meeting. You can't have a side conversation and realize that you do have some common ground here or there."
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