California won't drop mask requirement in schools, plans to reassess month-end

State health chief says California had seen a significant drop in COVID-19 infections since case rates peaked in January, but officials will not immediately enact changes to the current masking requirement for schools.

Published: February 14, 2022 7:34pm

Updated: February 14, 2022 8:24pm

(The Center Square) -

Though many fully vaccinated Californians will be shedding their masks in indoor spaces come Wednesday, California will not be lifting its mask mandate for schools this week, state officials announced.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the state’s Health and Human Services, said Monday that the state had seen a significant drop in COVID-19 infections since case rates peaked in January, but officials will not immediately enact changes to the current masking requirement for schools.

Instead, Ghaly said his department would be watching COVID-19 trends and “reassess” over the next two weeks to determine the way forward for masking in schools. During a news conference Monday, he said he anticipates Feb. 28 is the day he can share more information about the mandate’s future and provide a more specific date when the masking requirement will move to a recommendation.

“Masking requirements were never put in place to be there forever,” Ghaly said Monday. “It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.”

The news comes as several states nationwide are making updates to their masking requirements as COVID-19 case rates are trending downward. Last week, Oregon, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware announced targeted dates to drop existing statewide mask mandates in schools, leaving it up to individual school districts.

While California has yet to name a date for lifting the mask requirement in schools, state officials announced last week that the mandate requiring indoor masking statewide would expire this Wednesday for fully vaccinated individuals. Several California counties have announced that they will align with the state on this mandate, meaning millions of fully vaccinated Californians will be allowed to enter indoor spaces without wearing a mask starting Wednesday.

Ghaly explained Monday that masks will still be recommended in indoor spaces but said the shift in guidance is supported by a drop in infection rates over the last month and an improvement in the state’s hospitalization rate. As of Monday, the state saw a 75% drop in the past month and a 40% drop in hospitalizations, according to Ghaly.

California’s positivity rate has also dropped significantly over the past month, down from 22.9% on Jan. 14 to 6.2% on Monday.

Ghaly noted on Monday that the state would take several factors into account when updating mask requirements in schools, including the state’s case rate, pediatric hospitalizations, test positivity and vaccination rates. He indicated that when he announces a targeted date to end the statewide mask mandate in schools, there will be a “timetable” for implementation that will give schools and parents time to prepare for the change.

The decision to keep the mask requirement in place for schools for the upcoming weeks was praised by the California Teachers Association on Monday, which issued a statement saying strategies like masking and testing “have been key to ensuring the stability of in-person teaching and learning.”

“We support the administration’s decision to pause and gather more information to make a science-based decision on school masking that responds to this moment in the pandemic and helps the state transition with an eye on equity,” said E. Toby Boyd, president of the CTA and kindergarten teacher. “We will continue to assess state and local conditions over the next two weeks, just as local school districts and communities assess their own needs.”

Ghaly did acknowledge Monday that the decision to keep the mask requirement in place for schools could provoke frustration from parents who think it is time to move forward. He told reporters Monday that he hears the frustration and wants to ensure parents that change is on the way.

“Today, a change is not being made, but in two weeks, confirming that the data continues to be where it is … we anticipate making the change at that point,” Ghaly said. “And that change is one that I think will be met with a lot of excitement in some and a lot of fear in other circles.

“Parents should not hear that we aren’t making a move – we are taking a little more time to consider the information, work with our parents across the state to make sure when the move is made, we are doing it successfully and with communities empowered to continue to be safe.”

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