The long-awaited lifting of the state's mask mandate for schoolchildren arrives in two weeks — though individual school districts may still decide to keep it in place longer. And California is making the move in conjunction with Oregon and Washington, directly following the CDC's easing of mask guidelines in parts of the country where the Omicron wave is fading.
March 12 will be the first day of school without masks in two years for many kids in California, finally bringing an end to one of the most contentious issues of the pandemic — at least in some circles, and in some school districts. Even in liberal, mask-loving San Francisco, some parents were out rallying against masks for schoolkids on Sunday in Golden Gate Park with signs that said things like "Oxygen is Essential" — and one protesting parent who spoke to the Chronicle said all her friends call her "QAnon" when she brings up the mask issue, but she insists she's not a Republican, conspiracy theorist, or anti-vaxxer. Her sign read "I am a Democrat. I am Vaccinated. I Want Mask Choice."
A majority of San Francisco parents are still supportive of school mask mandates, though, and it's not yet clear if San Francisco Unified School District will adopt the state's rules as of March 12. The only Bay Area county that immediately said it would align with the state's guidance was Solano County, per the Chronicle.
Update: San Francisco's Department of Public Health announced Monday that it would align with the state's recommendations regarding schools, however SF Unified School District has put out a statement saying it will not, and the masks will stay on in public schools until some later date.
In a statement Monday, Governor Gavin Newsom hedged away from saying this lifting of the mask mandate in schools is permanent.
"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. “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."
In addition to lifting the mask order for California schools after March 11, Newsom announced that the indoor mask rule for unvaccinated adults will be suspended as of Tuesday, March 1.
But, masks will still be required statewide, indefinitely, on public transportation, and in emergency shelters, health care settings, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and long-term care facilities.
Similar announcements were made Monday morning by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
On Friday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky announced that mask guidelines affecting around 70% of Americans living in moderate- or low-transmission areas could be relaxed. But, she also urged caution and her announcement was far from rosy.
"None of us know what the future holds for us and for this virus," Walensky said. "And we need to be prepared and we need to be ready for whatever comes next. We want to give people a break from things like mask wearing when our levels are low, and then have the ability to reach for them again if things get worse in the future."
Walensky did say that the CDC would be revisiting the federal mask mandate for public transportation and on airplanes in the coming weeks.
Individuals at high risk for COVID-19 complications should still consider taking extra precautions, Walensky said, such as avoiding crowds and wearing a high-quality mask in indoor spaces.
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