State sticking with universal indoor masking at schools

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California’s K-12 students and staff won’t be going without face coverings while indoors any time soon.

Currently face masks are required indoors at all schools statewide and, in Yolo County, in any indoor public places. While the Winters Joint Unified School District trustees decided that students are not required to wear masks while outside, some school districts are requiring that masks be worn outdoors as well while on school campuses.

In an announcement last Wednesday, the state’s top two health officials reaffirmed the universal masking requirement in schools.

“From day one, California has stepped up with policies that keep our children and school staff safe,” said the joint statement by Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of California’s Health and Human Services Agency, and Dr. Tomás Aragon, the state’s public health officer.

“Universal masking, combined with vaccination measures and access to regular testing, have been key to the state’s nation-leading success in keeping schools open, resulting in California accounting for less than 1 percent of all school closures nationwide despite educating 12 percent of the nation’s public school students.

“Thanks to these policies, and the collective efforts of Californians getting vaccinated and masking up, California has consistently had some of the lowest COVID-19 case rates in the entire country,” the statement said.

But now is not the time to let up, especially heading into winter.

“Ongoing vigilance is critical to protect against COVID-19,” Ghaly and Aragon said. “This is particularly important for schools, where many children are not vaccinated.

“Although infection rates are decreasing, more than 25 counties continue to experience high transmission, as classified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hospital capacity remains impacted in some regions, and approximately 80 Californians continue to die daily, on average.

“Due to these considerations, California is reaffirming its current approach to COVID-19 prevention and containment in schools and will continue to maintain the universal indoor mask mandate in K-12 schools and will continue to monitor conditions through the winter.”

The officials cited recent studies that they said confirm “that schools with universal masking requirements are less likely to experience outbreaks, and that areas of the United States without school mask mandates experienced larger increases in pediatric COVID-19 case rates after the school year began, compared to areas with school mask requirements.

“Consistent with the guidance, California continues to assess conditions on an ongoing basis to determine whether to update mask requirements or recommendations,” Ghaly and Aragon said.

“This strategy represents the best path for schools to protect children and school staff, ensuring that classrooms remain safe spaces for learning, and children are provided every opportunity to be successful.”

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