SACRAMENTO, Calif. - As California prepares to end its indoor mask mandate, state health officials said Monday it’s still too soon to decide if masking will continue to be required in schools.
California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said during a virtual press conference Monday afternoon the data shows COVID-19 cases are rapidly declining and that adult and pediatric hospitalizations are trending downward.
However, he says the state will do a reassessment on Feb. 28 of COVID-19 case rates and other pandemic metrics. He says the school mask mandate will eventually be lifted, saying it's "a question of when."
While the state mask mandate will end Feb. 15, health officials in Los Angeles County said they will not align with those changes and that its mask policy will remain in place. While masks will no longer be required in the greater majority of California counties, masks continue to be highly recommended.
Masking policy at California schools
As a pediatrician and father of four, Ghaly said he understands the importance of masks in schools.
He also noted that despite having the most K-12 students in the country, California schools have experienced only 1% of school closures nationwide. Still, he said the state is not ready to drop its mask mandate for California students.
Earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he wasn't ready to outline whether K-12 students could take off their masks beginning Feb. 15. But he said those details could be released soon.
He emphasized that there are 1,050 school districts in California and 10,500-plus schools. And coming to a decision about whether to allow students and teachers to unmask has not been easy.
"Everybody has strong opinions," Newsom said, pointing to school boards, superintendents and county health officers, all of whom have valid and sometimes varying thoughts.
One point of contention: The vaccination rates in California schools are substantially lower than they are for adults.
For example, nearly 28% of 5- to 11-year-olds have been vaccinated statewide compared to California's average vaccination rate of 69.5%.
Many school districts have mandated vaccination for students, but others have not.
The state said they will revisit its mask policy for students on Feb. 28.
FOX 11's Kelli Johnson contributed to this report.
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