Calling for continued vigilance to prevent COVID-19 transmission in schools, California health officials announced last week that the indoor mask mandate for students and staff will remain in place as the state monitors conditions through the winter.
In July, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) released updated guidance for K-12 schools that requires students, staff and visitors to wear face coverings while they’re indoors on school campuses. At that time, the CDPH said it would decide by Nov. 1 whether to update or eliminate its mask requirements.
In a joint statement issued Oct. 20, California Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly and CDPH Director Dr. Tomás Aragón said masking requirements, coupled with vaccinations and regular testing, have been key to keeping schools open, with California accounting for less than 1 percent of all school closures nationwide. They further noted that while infection rates are decreasing overall, hospital capacity remains impacted in some regions, and approximately 80 Californians die of COVID-19 on average each day. As such, they called for ongoing vigilance and said face covering requirements will continue beyond Nov. 1.
“Recent studies from the 2021-22 school year 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,” the statement said. “Consistent with the guidance, California continues to assess conditions on an ongoing basis to determine whether to update mask requirements or recommendations.”
Face Coverings for Student-Athletes
In accordance with state guidelines, the Orange County Health Care Agency announced it will exempt student-athletes from wearing masks while playing basketball, volleyball, water sports, wrestling, competitive cheerleading and gymnastics, which pose a potential choking hazard. "As such, these activities are waived from the CDPH requirement for indoor mask use, for students during play," the agency said in a statement. When students are not playing, while indoors, masks must be worn on the sidelines, regardless of a negative test and/or vaccination status.
Students who fall under this exemption will undergo weekly COVID-19 surveillance testing using PCR or antigen testing. Approved COVID-19 test kits are available on all IUSD campuses. Students with documentation of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are waived from the requirement for weekly surveillance testing.
The CDPH and the California Interscholastic Federation jointly developed the policy, which requires approval from each county’s health department. If two teams are playing from counties with differing protocols, schools must comply with the guidance of the county they’re located in and the county where the contest is being played if it’s more restrictive, according to the CIF.
For the latest on the state’s COVID-19 measures, visit schools.covid19.ca.gov.