New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy will end masking rules for schools and daycares next month, no longer requiring students, staff and visitors to wear face coverings while indoors.

“This is a huge step back to normalcy for our kids,” Murphy said during a press briefing on Monday in Trenton. “We’re not going to manage COVID to zero. We have to learn how to live with COVID as we move from a pandemic to the endemic phase of this virus.”

The New York Times was the first to report the announcement.

The mask mandate — which Murphy put in place this school year, before students returned for in-person learning — will lift on March 7th, but individual districts and daycares can set their own rules on masking and still require them.

The CDC still recommends universal masking in schools but Murphy said he made the decision in light of steadily dropping cases and the expectation that vaccine eligibility will expand to children under 5 years old soon.

“Our reality is dramatically different than a lot of other states right now,” Murphy said. “Because we’ve gone through it first, we can responsibly take this step.”

State data shows the rates of infection among students and staff dropped the last week of January, compared to the week before. There were 33 new, in-school outbreaks at the end of January, up from 26 the week prior, according to those numbers. Statewide, hospitalizations have dropped by a third from the week before and are now hovering around 1,900.

“We see numbers going dramatically in the right direction,” Murphy said. “A few more weeks gives us more confidence in that respect.”

Murphy has hinted in the last few weeks that he was considering rescinding the universal masking rules, especially as cases receded and vaccination rates increased. Statewide, 90% of eligible residents have received at least one dose of the vaccines.

Murphy will also extend the state’s public health emergency which expires this week for another 30 days in order to keep the masking rules in place through March. He declared a public health emergency last month.

“We are cautiously optimistic that the current statewide school mask mandate can be safely relaxed in the near future, assuming current trends continue,” the New Jersey Education Association, the state teachers union, said in a statement.

The Department of Health said it would release additional guidelines for schools later this month.

Masking rules inside state buildings remain in place.

Meanwhile, during a storm briefing Monday in Kingston, New York Governor Kathy Hochul said she isn’t ready to rescind her state’s mask mandate in schools, which is scheduled to remain in place at least for another two weeks.

But she said she is going to “continue to head in that direction,” particularly if the state’s vaccination rate among school-aged children improves.

As of Sunday, just 37% of New York’s 1.6 million children age five to 11 had received at least one COVID vaccine dose, according to the state Department of Health.

“The one thing I’m asking all parents to do, and the pediatricians that advise them: Let’s get more children vaccinated so they have that suit of armor to be protected not just against this variant, but this is our third or fourth variant now,” Hochul said.

Hochul did hint that she may soon ease her state’s mask mandate in businesses that do not require vaccination, which she must extend, change or allow to expire on Thursday. The Democratic governor said she would be making an announcement on that front on Wednesday.

This story has been updated with additional information. Jon Campbell contributed reporting.