California will drop school masking requirements after March 11, leaving the decision up to districts and local jurisdictions, state officials announced Monday.
Currently, California students and teachers have to mask up indoors at K-12 schools statewide, regardless of vaccination status.
After next week, masks will be recommended but not required by the state at schools and child care facilities.
While the state is dropping the mandate, different counties, districts and schools can still opt to keep masks a requirement. And it remains unclear how many students will be able to unmask throughout the state.
Los Angeles County will align school masking measures with the state and shift to strongly recommending indoor masking requirements at child care sites and K-12 schools beginning March 12, the L.A. County Department of Public Health told KTLA, noting that school districts may continue to require masking regardless.
The state’s largest school district, L.A. Unified, has an agreement with the teachers union to require masks indoors at least through the end of the school year. KTLA has reached out to the district for an update.
United Teachers Los Angeles President Cecily Myart-Cruz said it is premature to discuss removing health and safety measures while there are still many unvaccinated children at schools.
The state’s highly-debated change for classrooms will come after California loosens masking requirements for unvaccinated people in most indoor settings, which is set to happen on Tuesday.
The state’s Health and Human Services Secretary, Dr. Mark Ghaly, had previously indicated that California will reassess its masking policies for classrooms — a topic that had become a point of contention throughout the state.
He had said that the decision will be based on several indicators, including COVID-19 case numbers, hospitalizations, child vaccination rates, and national and global trends.
Ghaly said the state will continue strongly recommending masks at schools since many people remain unvaccinated, including people with compromised immune systems and children younger than 5 who are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.
California has seen continued pressure to loosen masking mandates for students, with some groups filing lawsuits and hosting protests throughout the state in an attempt to end the requirement at schools.
Officials have kept the mandate in an attempt protect children who could become seriously ill and end up hospitalized with COVID-19 — especially since COVID-19 vaccines were at first not available to younger children.
While California saw case and hospitalization numbers climb quickly during an omicron-driven winter surge, the state has for weeks been noting declining case and hospitalization rates, including among children.
States across the nation have been loosening masking requirements as the country emerges out of the COVID-19 surge.
States including Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware, have all announced plans to lift statewide mask mandates for schools.
Oregon and Washington are also set to adopt new indoor mask policies and move from mask requirements to mask recommendations in schools.