COVID: When will California lift school mask mandate?

This post first appeared on San Gabriel Valley Tribune - California News on . You can read the original article here.

California school kids will have to wait until the end of the month to find out when they can attend classes without their face masks on, even as the state requirement to wear them in stores, businesses and many other public places aimed at keeping COVID-19 rates in check lifts for the unvaccinated on Wednesday.

Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said Monday that California isn’t quite ready to make a decision on lifting its statewide school mask requirement that’s been in place since last summer, but will reassess Feb. 28 after looking again at cases, hospitalizations and vaccinations.

“Masking requirements were never put in place to be there forever — it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when,” said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly. “Parents should not hear we are not making a move — we are taking a little bit more time to consider the information to make sure when the move is made we are doing it successfully with communities empowered to be safe.”

Ghaly said that the state would base its decision on lifting the statewide mask requirement in schools on a variety of factors — cases, positive tests, vaccinations, hospitalizations generally and for kids — but declined to cite specific metrics for any of them. And even if those metrics are met by Feb. 28, he said the school mask mandate won’t lift immediately after.

“It’s certainly going to take some time for schools and public health leaders to prepare, for families to prepare,” Ghaly said. “So it’s not a decision for the next day or the following day.”

The future mask policy shift comes as COVID-19 transmission rates fall rapidly from a January winter peak driven by the highly contagious omicron variant, but remain high in California and across the country, even as public patience with pandemic orders wanes. Tens of thousands of almost entirely unmasked football fans reveled Sunday in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles County despite mask requirements.

Last week state health officials confirmed that California’s general statewide indoor mask requirement, imposed Dec. 15 as the omicron case surge hit and extended last month, would sunset as planned starting Wednesday morning. But that doesn’t include the statewide mask requirement in schools.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend universal indoor masking in K-12 schools regardless of vaccination status for all adults and children ages 2 and older, including staff, teachers and visitors.

More generally, the CDC recommends that even those vaccinated and boosted wear masks indoors in public areas where there is substantial or high transmission of COVID-19 — no more than 50 new cases per 100,000 people and less than 8% of positive tests for the virus in the past seven days.

Currently, every state and nearly every county across California and the U.S. is at the CDC’s high transmission rate indicating 100 or more cases per 100,000 people and 10% or more positive tests over the last seven days. California’s transmission rate is almost five times that high-level threshold.

California is among a dozen U.S. states with statewide requirements for everyone to wear face masks inside school buildings, most of them led by governors who are Democrats. But half of those have recently announced plans to lift their requirements in coming weeks.

Nevada ended its statewide mask mandate Thursday, including for schools. Connecticut and Massachusetts will end theirs at the end of the month, Rhode Island and New Jersey in early March and Oregon and Delaware by the end of March.

New York, Washington, Hawaii, New Mexico and Maryland also have statewide school mask requirements like California. Republican-led Florida and Utah have banned mask mandates statewide, while in most other states it’s been left up to local health authorities and school districts.

Though less than 14% of Californians age 5 and older eligible for the vaccine have yet to get even one shot, the numbers are higher among children, who face lower risk from COVID-19, with 27% of kids 12-17 and 64% of those age 5-11 unvaccinated.