In a joint statement with Oregon Governor Kate Brown and Washington Governor Jay Inslee on Wednesday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Monday that the indoor mask mandate for schools in California would continue until March 12th. After the 12th, masking in schools will only be “strongly recommended.”
The change will effect all indoor K-12 schools, as well as childcare facilities. All unvaccinated individuals will no longer be required to wear masks, with schools instead only being able to ‘strongly encourage’ them. Local school districts, however, can keep mandates in place if wanted. Some, such as the Los Angeles United School District, currently have mask mandates in place until the end of the school year due to a teachers union agreement. However, most districts have said that the local extended mandates can be negotiated.
CA continues to our adjust policies based on the latest data & science, applying what we’ve learned over the past 2 years to guide our pandemic response.
After 3/11 masks won't be required but are strongly recommended in schools & child care facilities. https://t.co/VO1NJYkHna
— Office of the Governor of California (@CAgovernor) February 28, 2022
In addition, while schools will no longer require masks, they will still be required in high transmission places such as “public transit, emergency shelters, health care settings, correctional facilities, homeless shelters and long-term care facilities.”
“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. Masks are an effective tool to minimize spread of the virus and future variants, especially when transmission rates are high,” said the Governor on Monday. “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.”
Oregon Governor Brown added that “Two years ago today, we identified Oregon’s first case of COVID-19. As has been made clear time and again over the last two years, COVID-19 does not stop at state borders or county lines. On the West Coast, our communities and economies are linked. Together, as we continue to recover from the Omicron surge, we will build resiliency and prepare for the next variant and the next pandemic. As we learn to live with this virus, we must remain vigilant to protect each other and prevent disruption to our schools, businesses, and communities––with a focus on protecting our most vulnerable and the people and communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.”
The end of statewide mandatory masking in schools
Mandatory K-12 masking policies have been in place in California since in-class schooling resumed in late 2020 and early 2021. While the mandate had been previously considered to be removed, Delta and Omicron variant surges kept state health officials from ending the mask mandate. On February 14th, California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly announced that school mandates would stay in place, despite a drastic reduction of cases and COVID-19 measures, causing a public uproar over ending the mandates.
While Oregon and Washington had mandate relaxations on the books that had yet to take effect, California remained stubborn, and, along with Hawaii, steadfastly refused to end the indoor school mask mandate. After Ghaly’s announcement, dozens of school boards elected to ignore the mandate, with many others finding ways around masking rules. Faced with now bottoming out COVID-19 rates, new CDC guidance that says people do not need to wear masks indoors, and many districts openly defying state orders, officials finally agreed on an end date.
While most welcomed the end of the mandate on Monday, a few groups, most notably the California Teachers Association, said that many would be afraid to follow the new policy and that, once in effect, it would destabilize schools.
“Simply put, while some students are ready to immediately remove their masks, others remain very afraid,” noted CTA President E. Toby Boyd said in a statement on Monday. “Change is never easy, and today’s announcement is bound to disrupt and destabilize school communities.”
However, rather than fear, official statements poured in from numerous parents groups, school districts, and other places on Monday showing support for the end of indoor masking.
“CDC gave the okay and every teacher we asked is ok with this. Parents have been wanting this, and students have asked us so many times when it will end,” said an anonymous Southern California school district official to the Globe on Monday. “It’s been a long time coming and a long time wanted by pretty much everyone.”
The unusual three-Governor statement was also noted by many on Monday.
“It’s due, in large part, to the Western States Pact,” said Jamie Porter, an Oregon health care manager who works with others in Washington and California, to the Globe on Monday. “They agreed to work on controlling COVID-19 closer together two years ago, and, as you see, it’s still going strong. My state and Washington were already going to do it anyway, but our announcements didn’t make as much as a splash as we wanted to, and Governor Newsom probably didn’t want to come out alone in announcing a sweeping return like this. If more people are doing it with you, then the strangeness of being one of the last indoor mask mandate policy states is diminished somewhat. Everyone got something out of it.”
The indoor mask policy end in schools is expected to be permanent for COVID-19, barring the return of another large variant. Holdout districts in California keeping the mask policy in place past March 11th are expected to announce rough end dates soon.
Newsom is extending the school mask mandate through March 11. Because why not give California kids a couple more weeks of pointless misery.
— Kevin Kiley (@KevinKileyCA) February 28, 2022