Dr. Mark Ghaly lays out the road ahead for school masking policies on Feb. 14.
Masks stay in schools for now
February 21, 2022
School leaders will have to wait for a definitive date on when the state’s masking requirement in schools will be over.
Although the statewide indoor masking mandate expired on Feb. 15 for vaccinated individuals, the current statewide mandate requiring masking in schools for students and educators remains in place.
During a Feb. 14 news conference on COVID, California Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said removing the statewide mandate on masking in K-12 schools is not a question of if, but when.
“Masking requirements were never put in place to be there forever,” he said. “We’re getting to a place where we can relax the statewide masking requirement in schools.”
COVID cases have declined dramatically since January, when a surge driven by the Omicron variant drove caseloads to their highest levels since the start of the pandemic.
While there was no change on school masking announced on Feb. 14, Ghaly said that based on public health models, he expects cases to continue to decline in the next two weeks. State health officials will continue to monitor data and reassess the situation on Feb. 28. That’s when he anticipated being able to share a date for when masking in K-12 schools would change from being a requirement to being “strongly recommended.”
Ghaly said this timeline will give schools an opportunity to prepare and communicate changing mask policies with families. He also said this period would be a great time to encourage families to get their children vaccinated. Currently, 28 percent of 5- to 11-year-olds are fully vaccinated, while 65 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds are fully vaccinated, according to the state’s COVID website.
Ghaly said the state has not set specific thresholds that would need to be met before the K-12 masking requirement is removed. Instead, he said officials would collectively look at all metrics, including case rates, hospitalizations, test positivity rate and vaccination rates, when making the decision on dropping masking in schools at the state level.
While acknowledging the tragedy of more than 80,000 Californians that have lost their lives to COVID, Ghaly called California’s K-12 COVID strategy a “winning formula” that has kept students safely in school with fewer closures. He shared data from burbio.com that while California has 12 percent of the nation’s K-12 students, it has only experienced 1 percent of school closures during this school year.
When asked by a reporter about parents being outraged that masking would be continuing in schools, Ghaly said he has also heard these frustrations from parents, but that it wasn’t the whole story.
“That change [to remove the mask mandate] is going to be one that I think will be met with a lot of excitement in some and a lot of fear in other circles,” he said. “We know that there are other voices that are to be heard and to be considered.”
He said school districts and local health departments would retain their ability to have more stringent COVID requirements, including requiring masks in schools.
One school board, Roseville Joint Union High School District, has defied the state’s guidance by voting to make masking optional beginning Feb. 15. The board called the governor’s mask mandate “ill-advised and in opposition to the educational and social-emotional goals of the State and the District,” according to the resolution.
Ghaly said masking continues to be one of the important tools for reducing exposure to COVID, citing a recent study from California published by the CDC on the effectiveness of face mask and respirator use in indoor public settings.
Contact Us
© 2022 Association of California School Administrators