California, Oregon and Washington to end school mask mandates after March 11

By Reuters   February 28, 2022 | 05:41 pm PT
California, Oregon and Washington to end school mask mandates after March 11
School buses line up outside Woodrow Wilson Senior High School as students return to in-person classes in Los Angeles, California, U.S., August 30, 2021. Photo by Reuters/Mike Blake
California, Oregon and Washington will cease to require face coverings in schools after March 11 as the latest Covid-19 surge ebbs, but mask mandates will remain for higher-risk settings such as hospitals and prisons, governors of the three states said on Monday.

The joint action, following similar moves announced recently by several East Coast states, including New York and New Jersey, comes after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday eased indoor masking guidelines for most of the nation.

The rollback of compulsory masking also highlights a growing inclination by political leaders in those states, all led by Democrats, to shift a pandemic-weary public from a health-crisis mode to policies that manage the virus as part of every day life.

Local governments and school districts will be free to keep their own mask mandates in place even after statewide requirements are lifted, the West Coast governors said.

"As we learn to live with this virus, we must remain vigilant," Oregon Governor Kate Brown said in the joint statement.

The CDC's latest school guidance recommends masking only in communities with a "high" level of Covid-19 as the surge in infections and hospitalizations driven by the extremely contagious Omicron variant declines sharply. Its earlier recommendation advised masking in schools no matter the level of Covid transmission.

Compulsory face coverings have proven especially fraught and politically heated in public education, with Republican leaders in some states, including Florida and Texas, banning mask mandates in schools, while Democrats have tended to encourage masking.

Governor Gavin Newsom of California, the most populous U.S. state with some 6 million school children and 40 million residents overall, said masks will no longer be required in schools and child care facilities after March 11, but "will be strongly recommended."

Oregon and Washington are following suit. All three states said mask requirements would stay in effect for healthcare facilities, prisons, public transit, nursing homes and other settings where the risk of transmission remains particularly high.

"Masks are an effective tool to minimize spread of the virus and future variants, especially when transmission rates are high," Newsom said.

California ended mask mandates in most other indoor public spaces as of Feb. 16 for vaccinated individuals, and as part of Monday's action the unvaccinated will be free of mask requirements beginning on Tuesday.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul said on Sunday that her state will end its mask mandate for schools and childcare facilities on Wednesday, citing a steep drop in Covid-19 cases. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced earlier this month that his state would remove its school mask mandate on March 7.

Connecticut's mask mandate was due to end on Monday, while Delaware plans to keep its in place until March 31.

The United States has documented more than 950,000 Covid-related deaths since the pandemic began about two years ago.

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