California’s school mask mandate will continue until at least February 28

California is keeping its school children masked at least until Monday, Feb. 28, even as it lifts the statewide indoor mask mandate for those vaccinated almost everywhere else, state officials said Feb. 14. February.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of state for health and human services, suggested the state would lift the school mask mandate in two weeks, but would still strongly recommend masks at school for students and staff.

“We plan to make the change then, and that change is going to be one that I think will cause a lot of excitement in some and a lot of fear in other circles,” Ghaly told a conference. online press.

Ghaly also suggested that when the state’s school mask mandate is lifted, school districts will be allowed to continue requiring masks if they choose.

“Local decisions are not only allowed, they are well supported,” Ghaly said.

COVID-19 coronavirus cases in the state are trending lower after a strong surge from Omicron, with cases down 75% from a month ago and hospitalizations down 41%.

The announcement that the public school mask mandate would continue through the end of the month has outraged parents who are fed up with the mask requirement for children, who studies show are less likely to getting seriously ill from COVID.

Several San Diego-area parents said two years had been too long to continue enforcing pandemic safety measures and that it was time to adjust to COVID as a fact of normal life.

Sharon McKeeman, founder of the group Let Them Breathe, said she believes the state is extending the school mask mandate to maintain a facade to maintain its COVID emergency order to ultimately avoid triggering negotiations with unions. on a change in working conditions.

“There was no state of emergency at the Super Bowl. [on Feb. 13 in Inglewood],” she said. “It all comes down to corruption and power and money, when it should be about education and what’s best for our children.”

San Diego Unified School District teachers’ union president Kisha Borden said policymakers should think differently about masking in schools compared to other public places such as grocery stores, and that local cases of coronavirus and hospitalization rates should be considered.

“It’s important to look at local conditions,” Borden said.

California Teachers Association President Toby Boyd said he supports the wait before changing the school mask mandate to allow time to gather more local information and make ‘science-based decisions’ that take equity into account.

Ghaly said: “This is not a decision we take lightly or in haste. We take a little longer to review the information [and] working with our partners across the state to ensure that when the move is made, we do it successfully.

Several local health professionals have said it’s too early to get rid of indoor masking — in schools or anywhere else — and that schools should wait until coronavirus case rates drop much lower.

Case rates are declining but are “still incredibly high,” said Rebecca Fielding-Miller, assistant professor of public health at UC San Diego.

“I don’t think it makes sense to cut one of our best risk mitigation strategies when we’re in the middle of a huge wave,” she said.

Fielding-Miller suggested that because the virus appears to have a seasonal pattern, with surges around the holidays, it makes sense to consider suspending mask mandates in late spring and early summer, when cases drop dramatically, and restore them when cases rise again.

If school mask requirements go away, “we also need to talk about what we’re going to put in place in place of them,” Fielding-Miller said. COVID vaccinations are important, she said, but only 38% of children ages 5 to 11 are vaccinated in San Diego County.

Dr. Howard Taras, a UCSD pediatrician who works with districts such as San Diego Unified, said he would advise districts to consider several factors before making indoor masks optional.

“Masks for all make sense until community case rates are extremely low,” at one or two per 100,000 people, Taras said. That probably won’t happen until after spring, he said.

Taras added that he had “not seen any compelling studies” showing scientific evidence that mask mandates have caused significant mental, emotional or academic harm to children.

Dr. Mark Sawyer, professor of clinical pediatrics at the UCSD School of Medicine, said it’s possible that wearing masks interferes with learning socialization skills in school. But the other side of this question, he said, is whether students’ education and socialization would be further disrupted by student and teacher absences due to the increased spread of COVID.

Sawyer said he thinks coronavirus cases should reach a stable, low baseline, at least as low as before Omicron, before loosening masks. ◆

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