SAN DIEGO (CNS) — Despite indications the state was on the verge of lifting its mask-wearing requirement in schools, California's Health and Human Services secretary said Monday the requirement will remain in place for now, pending a Feb. 28 reassessment of COVID-19 case rates and other pandemic metrics.
Dr. Mark Ghaly said a lifting of the mandate is inevitable, saying it is just "a question of when." He expressed confidence that the mandate would be lifted sometime after that Feb. 28 reassessment, barring another sudden spike in virus infection rates and hospitalizations.
He noted that if the Feb. 28 assessment supports lifting the mandate, it would not happen immediately on March 1. He said the state would set a date that gives school districts, staff and parents time to prepare for the change.
Ghaly gave a lengthy presentation noting significant downward trends over the past month statewide in COVID case rates, hospitalizations and testing positivity rates. But he said as far as schools are concerned, the state is only "close to a point" where it could lift the mask mandate for students and staff, so no immediate change will be made.
He said he respects that many parents who have been calling for a lifting of the mandate will be upset by the decision, but he insisted there are others who maintain uncertainty about whether lifting the requirement in schools is safe for students and staff.
"I know and hear and listen to the frustration from many California parents and I would say the message today, which I hope is clear, is today a change isn't being made. But in two weeks, confirming that the data continues to be where it is, taking the time to prepare and work with the school community and communities at large, that we anticipate making the change at that point. And 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."
Ghaly noted that even when the state lifts its requirement for masks in schools, individual counties or school districts could still require them.
"Parents should not hear that we aren't making a move," Ghaly said. "We are taking a little bit more time to consider the information, work with our partners across the state to make sure when the move is made that we are doing it successfully with communities empowered to continue to be safe."
Gov. Gavin Newsom has expressed a desire to ease up on the school masking mandate, although he noted last week there has been some resistance from teachers' unions who still have safety concerns.
The state on Wednesday will lift its mask-wearing requirement for vaccinated people most in indoor public spaces, but some counties -- most notably Los Angeles County -- will continue to require face coverings indoors.