California won’t bring back mask mandate for new school year

California children will be allowed to go to school without face coverings when classes resume in the fall. But public health officials, while not requiring them, will still recommend face coverings for students and staff in an effort to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in K-12 schools.

State guidelines, updated last week, allow mask-free classrooms to continue that returned this spring.

“COVID-19 is here to stay, but we have learned methods and acquired tools to reduce its impact on our health and well-being,” the California Department of Public Health said in a statement. “California schools can sustainably and adaptively manage this disease.”

As part of its mitigation strategies, the state strongly recommends that individuals stay up to date on vaccinations, that schools optimize indoor air quality, and rely on rapid antigen testing rather than testing. PCR to detect infections.

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Lia Dondalez, 13 (left), and Adolfo Parra, 12, wear face masks in a hallway at Hoover Middle School in San Francisco. California public health officials will not require masks in schools for the next school year.

Gabrielle Lurie/The Chronicle

“Due to increased travel and social interaction that often occurs during school holidays, it is recommended that students and staff get tested for COVID-19 before returning to school after a major break. “, indicates the guide.

If a student or administrator tests positive for the virus, they must stay home for at least five days and wear a properly fitted mask around others for 10 days.

California stopped requiring masks in K-12 schools on March 12, leaving counties and school districts to retain or drop the pandemic mandate. All Bay Area school districts eventually adopted state guidelines while strongly recommending students and staff continue to wear masks.

After rising steadily following the lifting of the mandate and the easing of community restrictions, coronavirus cases among children in the United States began to decline in mid-May when schools closed for the summer, data shows. published by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association.

“Public health basically said, ‘You’re on your own, do whatever you want,'” said John Swartzberg, an infectious disease expert at UC Berkeley. “I think this ship has sailed in terms of warrants. Unless we have another new variant that increases hospitalizations, it’s not coming back. »

Infectious disease experts have warned that new variants of coronavirus could lead to another surge in the fall. The highly infectious and immuno-evasive omicron sublines BA.4 and BA.5 accounted for about 70% of coronavirus variants sequenced in the Northern California region last week, according to data released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease. Control and Prevention.

California’s coronavirus test positivity rate, which tracks the percentage of positive tests, rose to 14.8% on Friday. Thirty-eight of California’s 58 counties — including those in the Bay Area — are classified as having “high” infection levels according to CDC classifications, triggering a CDC recommendation for indoor masking and others safety precautions.

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“I’m just worried about the drop, mostly about the disruptions,” said Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at UCSF. “Not enough parents are going to get their children vaccinated.”

Vaccination will also not be required for California students for the 2022-2023 school year, but since August 2021, teachers and school employees must get vaccinated or tested weekly for the virus.

In April, state officials announced they would delay implementing Governor Gavin Newsom’s coronavirus vaccination requirement for school children until at least July 1, 2023, pointing to the absence until now has full Food and Drug Administration approval of the vaccine for children of younger ages.

Aidin Vaziri (he/him) is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]

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