Written by Elias Chane and Sheryl Chen
Update: On February 28th, the State announced that California’s school mask mandate will be lifted after March 11th. Therefore, the San Mateo County Health will recommend mask mandates in districts until at least March 18th or 25th.
M-A students could potentially not be required to wear masks at school, starting March 7th or 14th, according to San Mateo County Health (SMCH). Should California decide to repeal its school mask mandate on February 28th, the county health office would still advise school districts to continue requiring masks until at least one or two weeks following the decision.
All California counties, except for Santa Clara County, lifted their indoor mask requirements on February 16th. Although this repeal does not pertain to schools and therefore students must continue to wear masks in schools, California Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly announced that the state would reassess its guidelines on February 28th based on metrics like new infections, hospitalizations, and vaccination rates.
“It’s taking the time to prepare and work with the school community and communities at large that we anticipate making the change at that point,” Ghaly said. “That change 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.”
According to ABC News, California is one of 13 states with school mask mandates still in place. Seven of those 13 states have already announced the date when they will lift restrictions, all by mid-March.
Since California school districts will be allowed to continue mandating masks following the state repeal of the K-12 mask mandate, the question remains when schools within the Sequoia Union High School District, like M-A, will stop requiring students to wear face coverings indoors. According to Assistant Vice Principal Stephen Emmi, the District largely follows county recommendations for COVID-related procedure, so it is therefore assumed that M-A will proceed as per the San Mateo County Health’s suggestion.
SMCH Deputy Health Officer Dr. Curtis Chan said, “We don’t think February 28th will be enough time. We would at least want to give schools another one to two weeks notice, so that they could get ready to prepare, so potentially March 7th or the 14th. We would add an additional recommendation at that time.”
Thus, if the State of California lifted its school mask mandate on February 28th, it is possible M-A students would not be required to wear masks by sometime in March. The likelihood of this occurring, though, depends on there being declining transmission rates and no new COVID-19 outbreaks.
On February 24th, according to the California Department of Public Health, the daily case rate was 23.4 per 100,000 residents, less than one-twelfth of the case rate of 299 per 100,000 at the height of the Omicron surge in early January. Although, transmission is still more than one and a half times pre-Omicron levels of about 15 per 100,000 in early December.
“We think in one month’s time, it’s going to be much, much safer,” Chan said on February 18th. “We’re hopeful that the amount of virus that’s in our community on March 14th will be a small fraction, maybe ten to twenty percent of what we have right now [on Febuary 18th, the Californian case rate was 38.9 new cases per 100,000 people], which would make us all more comfortable with masks not being universally required.”
However, Chan said, “Anywhere close to a 100 cases per 100,000 people per week (a daily average of about 14 cases per 100,000 people), we would recommend that schools implement universal masking.”