California Mask Warrant Expires; state delays decision on school rules

While many Californians will be able to rremove masks in most indoor environments starting today When the statewide mandate expires, schools will still need it, at least for the next few weeks.

Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said in a virtual press conference Monday that California will re-evaluate its masking guidelines for K-12 public schools on February 28. The changes won’t come down to a single indicator, he said, but a composite look at COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and vaccination rates.

An expiration date for masks in schools could be announced on February 28.

“It’s definitely going to take some time for schools, leaders and public health officials across the state to prepare, for families to prepare,” Ghaly said. “It’s not a decision that will happen the next day or in the next two days, but certainly something that we will clearly share and set a timetable if we see the information that we are hoping for, and frankly, we are waiting to see the 28th .”

Related: Siskiyou schools struggle to stay open despite new wave of COVID-19 and staffing shortages

California’s mask mandate for indoor public spaces will expire after Tuesday, but Ghaly said repeatedly during the conference that masks are still a “strong recommendation.”

Unvaccinated people are still required to wear masks, and they are required in certain settings, such as healthcare facilities and public transportation, regardless of vaccination status.

‘You cannot sustain a red alert’: Why more doctors want to stop masking kids at school

Some critics across the state are pushing back. In Ventura County, Southern California, Superintendent of Schools César Morales said Monday the mandate in schools should be lifted on Wednesday when indoor masking requirements in most public places should be scrapped. by State and Ventura County Public Health.

“With COVID-19 case numbers dropping and schools being some of the safest places in our community, I think the mask mandate should be lifted in schools at the same time,” Morales said. in a written statement. “Even after masks become optional, anyone who wants to continue using them should feel comfortable doing so.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, has come under pressure from Republicans and other critics to lighten the terms. He indicated last week that he was ready to relax rule-making in schools, but not teachers’ unions.

“They just asked for a little more time and I think that’s responsible and I respect that,” Newsom said at a news conference last week. “But we also have a date with fate. We recognize that we want to move on from the status quo. »

Ghaly said Monday that COVID-19 cases in California have dropped more than 75% since mid-January, but the state is not yet ready to make masks optional in schools. He declined to answer repeated questions about the role played by teachers’ unions in Monday’s decision.

But the teachers’ position was made clear minutes after Ghaly finished speaking, when the powerful California Teachers Association issued a statement praising the “cautious approach to masking.”

“We know that masking, strong testing programs and having good ventilation systems in place in schools have been key to ensuring the stability of in-person learning,” said the statement from CTA President E. Toby Boyd, but added that the changes “will disrupt and destabilize school communities.

Newsom said last week that one of the sticking points in labor negotiations was relatively low vaccination rates for children under 12.

Only 28% of 5- to 11-year-olds in California are fully vaccinated, according to the latest state figures, compared to 89% of residents 18 and older.

Ghaly declined to say whether the school mask lifting requirements would be tied to any specific measures.

California has some of the strictest mask and vaccination requirements in the country, with Newsom announcing a COVID-19 vaccination mandate last October for all public and private school children. That mandate is not expected to go into effect until July, pending full federal approval for the firings.

School mask requirements, in place since July 2020, were key to getting the state’s powerful teachers’ unions to agree to reopen classrooms.

Parents are frustrated, prompting some leaders to make their own decisions.

In a suburb of Sacramento, the Roseville Joint Union High School District school board openly defied the state’s mandate last week with a unanimous vote to launch a “mask optional” policy.

In the Corona Norco Unified School District in Riverside County, where students and parents recently protested the school mask mandate, the district said it has set up a supervised outdoor space where students who refuse to wear a mask can spend the day protesting or doing schoolwork.

‘A brief second’: Newsom under fire for maskless selfie with Magic Johnson at Rams-49ers game

The Super Bowl took place in Los Angeles on Sunday, and among thousands of participants, few were seen wearing masks, despite the mandate in the state and county of Los Angeles. When asked what he had to say to “outraged parents”, who watched attendees without masks and whose children still can’t get rid of their masks in schools, Ghaly said he understood. frustration and hope the message is clear that a change is coming soon.

“It takes time to prepare and work with the school community and the communities at large that we plan to make the change at this point,” Ghaly said. “This 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.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Martha K. Merrill