The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) announced on Friday that children will continue to wear mandatory masks in school despite new federal guidelines saying that masks are no longer necessary in schools.
Earlier on Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that fully vaccinated teachers, students, and staff would not needs to wear masks at all K-12 schools this coming fall. While the CDC did give a few additional guidelines, such as social distancing and keeping desks at least 3 feet apart, and reiterated that people should continue to vaccinate, the announcement led many to expect pre-COVID normalization to return to schools in the 2021-2022 school year.
“Vaccination is currently the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports,” said the CDC in a statement on Friday.
However, hours after the CDC’s announcement, the CDPH gave their own announcement in which they said that masks will remain mandatory for returning K-12 students this fall, regardless of vaccination status. The CDPH will follow many of the other guidelines given by the CDC on Friday, but stressed that many schools cannot accommodate the new physical distance guidelines. Due to being unable to meet those guidelines, California opted to continue mandatory masks and a push to get more people vaccinated.
“We applaud the CDC’s commitment to ensuring that schools are fully, safely opened for in-person instruction. Given California’s science-based approach and the fact that the state’s school facilities can’t accommodate physical distancing, we will align with the CDC by implementing multiple layers of mitigation strategies, including continued masking and robust testing capacity,” said California Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly in a statement on Friday. “In places where we don’t have the ability to have distancing as one of the other mitigating strategies masking is the superior form of mitigation. So starting off our school year with kids masked, coming back safely with 100% of our students able to come in person, was the key strategy.”
Dr. Ghaly also noted that having a mix of students and staffs being masked and unmasked could lead to confrontation and interference between the two groups, with the continued masking policy being a unifying policy to not single anyone out.
“Masking is a simple and effective intervention that does not interfere with offering full in-person instruction. At the outset of the new year, students should be able to walk into school without worrying about whether they will feel different or singled out for being vaccinated or unvaccinated — treating all kids the same will support a calm and supportive school environment.
“In fact, we think the CDC’s guidance gives California, as well as all other states, an opportunity to put together a plan with safety first, kids back in school, in a very mindful and contextual way.”
Mixed reaction to CDPH mandatory mask announcement
The masking announcement was met with a mixed reception of Friday, with supporters praising the CDPH for being cautious and to stop the spread of any new variants of COVID-19, with detractors saying that California’s policy is only holding back full reopening in the state and that California is just blatantly ignoring federal guidelines now.
“We want to be safe, but we also want to be normal,” said a school vice principal to the Globe on Friday, who asked to remain anonymous. “We were really hoping that California allowed the plan that allowed vaccinated people to not have to wear masks. It leads to normalization and was an incentive for people to get vaccinated. We actually had a few lessons planned on addressing the mask issue and if they should get vaccinated. Not that they have to get vaccinated, but if they should or not. Regardless on how you feel about vaccinations, it is something that needs to be addressed.”
“But now that is all out the window and instead we all have to wear masks. A lot of teachers here only got vaccinated so that they could return to teach in-person without those things, and they are beyond furious right now. I actually just got off the phone with one. It’s really a big issue.”
“They aren’t even doing this on a county by county basis, as rural schools and even bigger ones in the cities probably could meet social distancing guidelines and could forego the masks. But, as we’ve seen, the state isn’t having any of that. So we’ll all stuck with wearing masks. Beats remote learning, but still incredibly disappointing.”
It is unknown as of Friday how long the mandatory masks will stay in place for, although it is expected to remain in place for at lease part of the fall due to new surges in COVID variant cases.
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