Credit: Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/Polaris
Third graders at Hooper Avenue School in Los Angeles wear their mask during class.
This story has been updated to include information from a news conference with California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly and reaction from others in the education community.

California will no longer require masks in schools after March 11, according to updated health guidance released by the state this morning.

Gov. Gavin Newsom joined the governors of Oregon and Washington to announce the states would be strongly recommending masking in schools instead of mandating it.

“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,” Newsom said in a statement. “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.”

This does not necessarily mean masks will not be mandated in some school districts. Local county public health officers in high-transmission areas could require masking, as could individual districts. Many districts also will have to renegotiate labor agreements before students can remove masks in classrooms.

“We are really moving from required masking to a strong recommendation at a time when I know a lot of jurisdictions are going to look to the state and our evidence to support a decision, to continue masking in some parts of our communities,” said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly at a news conference Monday. “There is clear evidence that masks do help and reduce transmission.”

Los Angeles County, for example, does not plan to drop mask requirements until the county reaches a moderate transmission rate of under 50 new cases a week per 100,000 people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently considers the county to have a high transmission rate.

San Francisco Unified also has announced that it doesn’t plan to change its indoor mask policies.

State officials reviewed student vaccination rates, Covid case numbers, hospitalization rates and guidance from the CDC, as well as other data, before deciding when to lift mask mandates.

Covid cases have declined 50% statewide over the past two weeks, with test positivity dropping below 3%, Ghaly said. Monday there were 19.5 Covid cases per 100,000 residents. Covid cases are expected to continue to decline over the next two weeks to between 5 and 15 cases per 100,000 residents. Pediatric vaccination numbers remain low, however. Only 30% of California residents age 5 to 11 are vaccinated.

The anticipated drop in Covid rates over the next two weeks is the primary reason the state opted to delay rescinding the mask mandate until March 11, Ghaly said. 

“Governor Newsom’s announcement that the statewide mask mandate for schools will be lifted in two weeks is a welcome step in California’s return to normalcy after two years of pandemic emergency response,” Myrna Castrejón, president of the California Charter Schools Association, said in a statement. “The timeline for the end of the mandate provides California’s charter public schools the needed time to work with their communities and implement appropriate policies to update their masking policies based on local conditions or health orders.”

Ghaly acknowledged that there will be different opinions about whether the state made the right decision in revoking the mask mandate.

“I will tell you that we know for each person out there who may have one view of the decision today, that there’s another family, another young person who has a different view,” Ghaly said. “So, public health is not necessarily about balance. It’s about leading with data and science and communicating clearly. And that’s what we’re certainly trying to do today.”

The decision comes almost two weeks after the state rescinded indoor mask mandates for vaccinated people in most public places but schools, igniting anger in more conservative areas of the state. Several school districts in areas where opposition to masking had been strong voted to defy state law and make masking optional. 

Unvaccinated people will be able to remove their masks indoors in public places other than schools on March 1.

On Feb. 22, the board of the Nevada Joint Union High School District became the latest district to adopt a policy of voluntary masking. The district is in a county where masking indoors would have been required under CDC guidance. 

Teachers at Nevada Union High School responded by calling in sick for two days to protest the action, forcing the school to close. The teachers held a sickout, in part, because they feared they would be disciplined by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing if they violated state law, according to union leadership.

Almost 200 teachers in the Rocklin Unified School District also called in sick on Monday — a third of the certificated staff represented by the Rocklin Teachers Professional Association. The sickout was in protest of the district’s decision to rescind the mask mandate, but was not a formal labor action, according to the union. 

In a statement, Toby Boyd, president of the California Teachers Association, said in part that the union shares the optimism of Gov. Gavin Newsom and California Department of Public Health officials that declining COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations “allow us to see light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. Reaction to today’s announcement will be mixed. Simply put, while some students are ready to immediately remove their masks, others remain very afraid. We urge local school districts to continue to work with educators and families and to act cautiously while prioritizing the safety of students, educators, and their families.

“From day one, safety has been and continues to be the priority for California educators who have spent the last two years confronting COVID’s ever-evolving challenges as individuals, as parents, and as teachers and school professionals,” he stated. “They have put their hearts and souls into meeting the academic and social-emotional needs of their students while also caring for their own families.”

Despite the protests against masking, almost two-thirds of California voters support mask and vaccine mandates in schools, according to a poll conducted in early February and released Feb. 25 by the Institute of Governmental Studies at University of California Berkeley and co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times.

Among parents, 61% approved mask mandates in schools and 55% approved vaccine mandates, according to the poll. Approval for these mandates was divided along political lines, with the vast majority of Republicans disapproving and the vast majority of Democrats approving.

The announcement Monday came on the heels of new guidance on indoor masking from the CDC, released Friday, that instituted a new rating system to determine if indoor masking should be required. The new system measures the number of Covid patients admitted to hospitals, a hospital’s capacity to handle additional Covid cases and new Covid cases in the county. Previously the CDC considered Covid positivity rates and caseloads.

If the state had followed this guidance, masking would remain in Los Angeles, Kern, San Diego, Fresno and most rural counties until their high Covid rating, shown as orange on CDC’s color-coded system, lowers to medium (yellow) or low (green). California is trending in the right direction, and the CDC map should show areas moving to medium or low infection rates over the next two weeks, Ghaly said.

Ghaly stressed that Covid mitigation measures could return if Covid rates increase, however.

“The future may bring future surges and new variants,” he said. “California will continue to build on what we have learned to keep Californians safe and secure.”

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  1. Jay 3 months ago3 months ago

    Whether you agree or disagree with the mask mandate, the decision has been made.

    Parents should focus on the vaccine legislation currently being discussed in the California state legislature. Mandates are simple executive orders that change at a leader’s will. Laws are much more difficult to repeal.

    Senate Bill (SB 781): https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220SB871

    Replies

    • Nicole 3 months ago3 months ago

      We are hoping all of the bills do not pass. We are willing to not comply. This has to end now.

  2. Xavi Garcia 3 months ago3 months ago

    Come March 11th, my kids will be removing their masks, even if their school, the teacher, the school board or union says otherwise. I am done with this load of garbage!

    Replies

    • Nicole 3 months ago3 months ago

      Amen!!

  3. Katz50 3 months ago3 months ago

    Make this make sense… A lot of double talking. Mask on. Mask off. Mask up. Mask down. Parents should start looking for alternative schooling. Home-school groups could really become a viable option to help families get their mental faculties stabilized. This back-and-forth is getting old.

  4. Chris 3 months ago3 months ago

    My district requires kids to wear masks outside – not a decision based on science. The elementary aged kids run around and sweat through their masks. You then have to give them a new mask after recess! Why though would anybody want to be in a room of 30+ students all crowded together where only 30% are vaccinated without masks? Why can’t this be based on metrics such as vaccination rates and local case stats? … Read More

    My district requires kids to wear masks outside – not a decision based on science. The elementary aged kids run around and sweat through their masks. You then have to give them a new mask after recess! Why though would anybody want to be in a room of 30+ students all crowded together where only 30% are vaccinated without masks? Why can’t this be based on metrics such as vaccination rates and local case stats?

    This seems like a political decision, not a scientific decision. And parents don’t expect a teacher to enforce your preferred mask/no mask preferences for your kid.

  5. Nicole Amaral 3 months ago3 months ago

    Thank God the kids don’t have to wear masks in most schools soon. It’s only a year too late!

  6. Frank Bader 3 months ago3 months ago

    About time. Enough of this theater. Dems have to shift the narrative to war now.

  7. Regina 3 months ago3 months ago

    I really do wish they’d wait until next year. I already have students being teased and excluded for not being vaccinated. Parents telling kids not to hang around kids who aren’t vaccinated. I foresee this happening with the mask mandate, it’s another thing for me to manage.

    Replies

    • Nicole Amaral 3 months ago3 months ago

      That was happening a bit in December and then my unvaccinated son got Omicron. Then a month or so later almost all of the kids in his class got it. It didn’t matter if they were vaccinated or not, it was all the same outcome. That woke some parents up.

  8. Jonathan Halvorsen 3 months ago3 months ago

    In Placer County, many school districts have also adopted resolutions or simply directed administration to no longer exclude students from the classroom who refuse to wear a mask. It would have been helpful for everyone - students, staff, parents, and elected school board trustees – if this announcement today by the Governor would have directly addressed this situation which has caused great turmoil for school communities. Currently in Placer County - Western Placer Unified, Placer … Read More

    In Placer County, many school districts have also adopted resolutions or simply directed administration to no longer exclude students from the classroom who refuse to wear a mask. It would have been helpful for everyone – students, staff, parents, and elected school board trustees – if this announcement today by the Governor would have directly addressed this situation which has caused great turmoil for school communities.

    Currently in Placer County – Western Placer Unified, Placer Union High, Placer Hills Elementary, Roseville City Elementary, Roseville Secondary, Loomis Union, and Eureka Union school districts (I’m sure there are more) have all already decided without consequence, that students can choose whether they will wear a mask or not regardless of other conditions. Therefore, I don’t really understand what the significance of this announcement today has on school districts.