By DAVE KOLPACK and SARA BURNETT
As the omicron wave of the coronavirus subsides, several U.S. states and cities have lifted mask mandates for schools and indoor businesses. The White House says talks are underway about how and when to move the country out of the pandemic’s emergency phase. The CDC still recommends masks in indoor settings, with stronger masks such as N95s or KN95s as the best options. State officials say the main reason for easing mandates is the downturn in hospitalizations and infections, even in places that have the most stringent rules. They also cite the protections offered by vaccines, increased availability of at-home testing kits and therapeutics for those who catch the virus.