A man holds a No Masks sign outside a meeting of the Volusia... DELAND, FLORIDA, UNITED STATES - 2021/09/14: A man holds a No Masks sign outside a meeting of the Volusia County School Board in Deland. The school board voted 3-2 to modify the mandatory school mask requirement to allow parents to opt out of the requirement for their children. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) SOPA Images / Contributor via Getty Images
Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/Contributor/LightRocket via Getty Images

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Democratic Governors Loosen Mask Mandates

It’s Thursday, February 10th, and this is your Morning Wire. Listen to the full podcast:

1) Democratic Governors Loosen Mask Mandates

The Topline: As the Biden administration continues to urge strict mask mandates in schools and indoor spaces, several Democrat governors are reversing course, opting to lift mandates as fears of the Omicron variant recede. 

Quote Of The Day: “Well, we certainly understand and have seen in polling that the public is tired of COVID. We understand that. So are we.”

— White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki

Spencer Platt/Staff/Getty Images

Democrat Shift

Governors of New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware all announced on the same day a form of change to their indoor mask requirements. Delaware and New York will drop their indoor mask mandate altogether, while New Jersey and Connecticut will drop their mask mandates for schools. 

Republican states have had similar measures for a while, but many people were surprised to see this from Democrat-run states, especially because the Biden administration still calls for universal masking in schools, as well as indoor masking for high transmission spaces. Republicans say the shift in response is only happening now because public opinion is shifting. 

Potential Reasons

Omicron is believed to have served — at least in part — as a natural immunizer because it was contagious, yet mild compared to the Delta variant. Cases are dropping in almost every state and hospitalizations are falling. For the first time in over a month, there are fewer than 100,000 Americans currently hospitalized for COVID, and a major contributing factor is natural immunity. 

With midterms approaching, elected officials are trying to get a sense of the public perception and polls have started to show how unpopular these measures have become with the majority of Americans. One recent poll found that 44% of Americans support keeping current COVID measures in place while nearly 75% of respondents said COVID is here to stay and Americans need to learn to live with it. 

Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

2) Critics Attack Florida Parental Rights Bill

The Topline: A new education bill in Florida has received broad support from lawmakers in the state, but LGBT activists and media outlets are criticizing it as the “dont say gay” bill.

Quote Of The Day:We’ve seen instances of students being told by different folks in school, ‘Oh, don’t worry, don’t pick your gender yet.’ They won’t tell the parents about these discussions that are happening. That is entirely inappropriate.”

– Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL)

The Bill

HB 1557 primarily focuses on parents’ rights regarding information about their child. It also includes a section prohibiting districts from encouraging classroom discussions of sexuality in primary grade levels. 

The bill does not ban the word “gay,” “lesbian,” or “transgender,” or any other words. 

The exact language of the bill is: “A school district may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.”

It doesn’t prohibit discussion of LGBT topics, but rather it prohibits districts from encouraging teachers to discuss those topics in class in primary grades or in an inappropriate manner. 

Each district defines “primary grade levels” differently. “Primary grades” generally refer to elementary school, but some districts will include middle school. This includes children ages 10 and under and sometimes 13 and under.

The bill —  which passed the Florida House and is expected to pass in the Senate — also includes a provision allowing parents to file civil suits against school districts if they feel the law has been violated. 

Controversy

President Joe Biden issued a tweet about the bill on Tuesday evening, saying, “I want every member of the LGBTQI+ community — especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bill — to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are. I have your back, and my Administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve.” 

The majority of the bill discusses parents’ primacy in decisions relating to the upbringing of their child and transparency regarding information about their child. At various points, it also discusses parents’ right to access information and school records about their child, and the right to be notified of anything going on with their child in terms of mental, emotional, or physical health.

Some language in the bill could be read as an attempt to prevent schools from keeping secrets from parents about students’ sexualities or gender identities. For example, the bill requires schools to “adopt procedures for notifying a student’s parent if there is a change in the student’s … mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being.” 

Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

3) The Middle Class Housing Crisis

The Topline: Those in the middle class are having an increasingly difficult time buying homes in the current market, which could make millennials and young families hesitant or unable to fulfill the dream of home ownership.

The Crisis

Home prices are surging nationwide and disproportionately affecting the middle class and young millennial families.

One study from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) released on Monday showed how the rise in the cost of homes and a steep drop in supply is impacting Americans.

The study found that at the end of 2021, there were around 411,000 fewer houses on the market in the price range for buyers earning between $75,000 and $100,000 compared to before the pandemic. There was only one affordable listing for every 24 households at the end of 2019. By the end of 2021, there was only one available listing for every 65 households.

The NAR study also shows “housing affordability” got worse over the past two years for every income group except the wealthiest Americans. 

While the pandemic had some other potentially positive effects on the real estate market — including low mortgage rates – the number of houses for sale dropped while at the same time new home construction slowed.  

These hurdles are having a negative impact on how people feel about home buying, and the group most negatively affected is first time home buyers, a group mostly made up of millennials who are now in their early 30s.

A monthly Fannie Mae poll found that only 25% of Americans said it’s a good time to buy a house. While 69% said it’s a good time to sell a house, which is another record high in the survey that goes back more than a decade. 

Outlook

According to the experts, prices will likely continue to rise.

Zillow said last month that it’s anticipating the value of homes to go up 16.4% from December 2021 to December 2022.

However, the National Association of Realtors said these increases will continue but at a slower rate by the end of 2022.

This housing issue is also specifically affecting families. A Zillow Group report looked at 421 counties in the U.S. and discovered that prices went up faster in zip codes with a higher proportion of people under 18. 

And the rental market isn’t offering any relief. Real Estate Consultant John Burns said “the rental market is actually stronger than the ‘for sale’ market right now,” saying the rent increases are something he has never seen in his life.

Geoff Robins / GEOFF ROBINS/Contributor/AFP via Getty Images

Other Stories We’re Tracking

Canadian Truckers

Truckers in Canada earned their first significant win this week in the province of Alberta. As of Wednesday, Alberta citizens will no longer be required to show proof of vaccination to enter businesses and engage in other normal life. 

Sweden

Sweden is closing all large-scale government testing facilities for COVID-19. The Swedish Public Health Agency chief announced this week, “We have reached a point where the cost and relevance of the testing is no longer justifiable.”

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