California state officials on Monday said they’re keeping school masking requirements in place for at least two more weeks, despite the indoor mask requirement for vaccinated people being relaxed this week.
The state will reassess on Feb. 28, and make an announcement regarding masking at schools, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said during a media briefing.
“On February 28, we anticipate being able to share what the next period of time will look like and with some specificity, give a date when the masking requirement will move to a recommendation,” Ghaly said.
He said the decision will be based on several indicators — COVID-19 case numbers, hospitalizations, child vaccination rates, and national and global trends — but did not specify specific metrics that the state needs to see for school masking rules to change.
“This is not a decision that we take lightly. It’s not a decision that is a hasty one,” Ghaly said.
Currently, California students and teachers have to mask up indoors at K-12 schools statewide. In Los Angeles County, masks are also required outdoors at schools.
The state is holding off on making any changes amid continued pressure to loosen the masking requirements for students — a topic that has become a point of contention in many circles.
There have been lawsuits and parent-led protests throughout the state calling for an end to masking at schools, which became required to curb the spread of the coronavirus and protect children who could become seriously ill and end up hospitalized with COVID-19.
Other states, including Oregon, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware, have all announced plans to lift statewide mask mandates for schools.
While California isn’t updating its rules now, the state is expected to see COVID-19 conditions continuing to improve in the coming weeks and Ghaly was optimistic.
“Masking requirements were never put in place to be there forever,” Ghaly said. “It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.”
California’s case numbers are rapidly declining and both pediatric and adult hospitalization numbers are trending downward, Ghaly explained, adding that modeling projects a steep decline in hospitalizations within the next few weeks.
“We are taking a little bit more time to consider the information, work with our partners across the state, to make sure when the move is made, that we are done doing it successfully and with communities empowered to continue to be safe,” Ghaly said.
While school requirements will remain the same, other masking rules are changing this week.
The statewide indoor masking requirement will expire Tuesday, moving the state back to previous guidance that mandates face coverings only for unvaccinated people in all indoor public settings, like shops, gyms, bars and movie theaters.
Statewide, masks will become only “strongly recommended” indoors for vaccinated people, but not required.
“Why isn’t it the same at schools? Because schools have been an important place for us to focus on for for some time,” Ghaly said.
While the state is loosening some requirements, local jurisdictions can still opt to keep stricter mask mandates.
L.A. County is keeping its mask mandate for vaccinated people after the state drops its requirement, but it does plan to loosen some mask requirements that hinges on the county hitting specific hospitalization and case numbers.
“As we anticipate changes, now’s a great time to get vaccinated,” Ghaly said.