EDITOR'S NOTE: Multimedia journalist Tara Lynn Wagner spoke with students and parents on the indoor mask mandate rules at schools. Click the arrow above to watch the video.
LOS ANGELES (CNS) — California will lift its requirement that students and staff wear masks indoors at schools at 11:59 p.m. March 11, making face coverings "strongly recommended" but not mandated, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday.
As of Tuesday, meanwhile, the state will also lift its requirement that unvaccinated people wear masks in most indoor settings, but masks will be "strongly recommended" for everyone indoors. Masks will also continue to be required for everyone at settings, including health care facilities, transit centers, airports, aboard public transit, in correctional facilities and at homeless shelters and long-term care facilities.
"California continues to adjust our policies based on the latest data and science, applying what we've learned over the past two years to guide our response to the pandemic," Newsom said in a statement. "Masks are an effective tool to minimize spread of the virus and future variants, especially when transmission rates are high. We cannot predict the future of the virus, but we are better prepared for it and will continue to take measures rooted in science to keep California moving forward."
Under the timeline announced Monday, the state will no longer mandate indoor mask-wearing on school campuses beginning March 12. But that doesn't automatically mean that all school districts — including Los Angeles Unified — will immediately drop the masking requirement. Individual school districts or counties have the option of maintaining local requirements if they deem them necessary.
Los Angeles County — which has taken a conservative approach throughout the pandemic in easing public health rules — issued a statement saying it will align with the state and will lift the school masking requirement as of March 12.
But the county Department of Public Health noted: "School districts may require masking at schools and during school activities and are encouraged to consult with teachers, staff, parents and students as they consider the appropriate safety protections for their school community, recognizing that many individuals may want to continue additional protections."
The LAUSD issued a statement late Monday saying only that the district would be monitoring COVID rates. But did not commit to lifting the mask mandate on March 12.
"We are encouraged by recent improvements to local health conditions, which underscore the effectiveness of the district's robust vaccination and testing programs," according to the district. "We are committed to upholding our science-driven approach to COVID-19 protocols and will continue to consult with our medical director and health partners as we work to establish an updated mask policy.
"We respect the voices of all stakeholders, and as such, we will remain engaged with our labor partners, employees and families as we maintain and seek practices that are protective, responsive and in the best interest of our school communities."
The president of the district's powerful teachers union indicated that it will oppose any effort to lift the indoor mask mandate.
"LAUSD schools have been the safest and most well-equipped in the country because educators and families united to demand critical health and safety protocols," UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz said in a statement. "These protocols, like indoor masking, have protected tens of thousands of educators and more than half a million students, along with their families. It is premature to discuss removing these health and safety measures while there are still many unvaccinated youth in our early education programs and schools."
The county and LAUSD have both lifted its outdoor mask-wearing rule at schools and child care centers.
The California Republican Party issued a statement saying the school mask rule should end immediately, not in two weeks.
"When it comes to our children, Newsom led from behind throughout the pandemic, bowing to the political power of the teachers unions," according to state GOP Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson. "The impacts caused by his lack of courage and politically calculated decisions kept California kids out of school longer than any other state and will be felt for years to come. I'm not sure whether to ask Newsom or the unions to respect parents' rights to make decisions in the best interest of their children, but the school mask mandate should end today."
The governors of Oregon and Washington joined Newsom in Monday's announcement, with those states also announcing a lifting of indoor mask requirements as of 11:59 p.m. March 11 — effectively ending the face-covering rules for the entire West Coast.
The announcement comes following Friday's change in guidance by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which adopted new standards that rely largely on COVID hospital numbers to govern whether masks should be worn. Those new standards — while resulted in mask recommendations being lifted for much of the country, still classified Los Angeles and San Diego counties as having "high" virus activity and urged that people continue to wear masks.
Under the new CDC guidance, both Orange and Riverside counties are in the "medium" category, so the federal guidance does not require mask-wearing.
Despite California's lifting of indoor mask-wearing requirements, Los Angeles County continues to require face coverings in most indoor settings. However, the county is allowing vaccinated people to remove their masks in indoor locations where all patrons are checked for either a COVID vaccination or a recent negative test.
According to the county Department of Public Health, the agency "will review any additional state guidance changes and provide an update on additional modifications to LA County safety measures during (Tuesday's) Board of Supervisors meeting."
There has been a growing push by two county supervisors for an end to the county's mask-wearing mandate. Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn have both said the county should align fully with the state to avoid confusion and frustration among residents.
Barger on Monday hailed the state's announcement easing masking rules, and again called for an end to the requirement.
"During tomorrow's (Tuesday's) L.A. County Board of Supervisors meeting, our county's public health director has committed to articulating a plan for how L.A. County will adjust its masking mandates and restrictions," Barger said in a statement. "I look forward to that discussion and will continue to call for clarity and consistency with state and federal guidelines.
"It's clear to me that, as the Omicron surge continues to decrease in L.A. County, we need to implement flexible COVID-19 infection control policies and move away from rigid approaches. The time for compulsory masking mandates has come to an end."