California to lift indoor school mask mandate after March 11; S.D. Unified holds off
Local officials retain the option of keeping mask rules in place.
Indoor masking will no longer be mandatory at California schools and child care facilities after Friday, March 11, a long-debated and much-anticipated move that comes as the state continues its emergence from the Omicron wave of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
But local officials retain the option of keeping mask rules in place if they think doing so is warranted, and more than 1,000 school districts face making their own decisions on when to take that step, contingent on things such as county health orders and labor agreements.
The San Diego Unified School District said in an email that it will not change its indoor mask requirement based on the state’s policy alone, but rather will decide after consulting with UC San Diego health professionals and public health agencies about when it is safe to do so.
The district said San Diego County remains in the “high COVID-19 community level” and therefore, “San Diego Unified will exercise its local control to maintain the indoor mask mandate at this time.”
Two weeks ago, San Diego Unified lifted its requirement that masks be worn outdoors at schools but continued to require them indoors in accord with California’s rules.
The state’s Feb. 28 announcement on school masks — the latest move to loosen California’s formerly strict face-covering policies — could allow potentially millions of children in kindergarten through 12th grade to go maskless in the classroom for the first time in months.
In another major move, California officials said masks will no longer be required, though strongly recommended, for unvaccinated people in most indoor settings starting Tuesday, March 1.
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Though opponents of school mask requirements have had heated online discourse and in-person protests at campuses and school board meetings, a poll in early February of nearly 9,000 California voters conducted by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies and co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times indicated that nearly two-thirds, including a majority of parents, were supportive of K-12 school mask mandates.
“California continues to adjust our policies based on the latest data and science, applying what we’ve learned over the past two years to guide our response to the pandemic,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement Feb. 28. “Masks are an effective tool to minimize spread of the virus and future variants, especially when transmission rates are high. We cannot predict the future of the virus, but we are better prepared for it and will continue to take measures rooted in science to keep California moving forward.”
Face coverings still will be required for everyone in certain settings identified by the state or federal government, such as on public transportation or in health care settings, correctional facilities and emergency or homeless shelters.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed its own guidance Feb. 25, recommending universal indoor masking only in areas where the community level of COVID-19 is considered to be high, using hospitalization-based metrics as well as case rates.
“Community measures should focus on minimizing the impact of severe COVID-19 illness on health and society,” the CDC said, “preventing medically significant illness, minimizing burden on the health care system [and] protecting the most vulnerable through vaccines, therapeutics and COVID-19 prevention.”
— Point Loma-OB Monthly staff contributed to this report. ◆