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By Collin Breaux
In spite of calls from some parents and education officials to do away with masks, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) announced last week that students will have to continue wearing masks while on campus and indoors at the start of the upcoming school year.
The state health agency’s announcement on Friday, July 9, marked a more cautious route compared with the updated guidance released the same day by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Face masks, the CDC recommends, should be worn indoors by all individuals age 2 and older who are not fully vaccinated, along with maintaining at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms.
“When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet, such as when schools cannot fully reopen while maintaining these distances, it is especially important to layer multiple other prevention strategies, such as indoor masking,” the CDC said.
The CDC announcement said students “benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction in the fall 2021 is a priority.”
Following the CDC’s recommendations, the CDPH released its own guidelines that kept mask requirements in place for indoor campus settings. According to the health department’s announcement, many of California’s school facilities can’t accommodate physical distancing.
“Given California’s science-based approach and the fact that the state’s school facilities can’t accommodate physical distancing, we will align with the CDC by implementing multiple layers of mitigation strategies, including continued masking and robust testing capacity,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, California Health & Human Services Agency Secretary, said in the announcement. “Masking is a simple and effective intervention that does not interfere with offering full in-person instruction.”
Ghaly further said that students should be able to walk into the new school year without worrying about being “singled out” for being vaccinated or unvaccinated.
Masks are generally no longer required for fully vaccinated people in most instances throughout California, where life has mostly returned to normal after pandemic restrictions were lifted in mid-June because of low COVID-19 case numbers.
Student mask requirements have been a hot-button issue in the Capistrano Unified School District, where some parents have denounced the requirements and called for masks to be optional.
The CUSD Board of Trustees recently passed a symbolic resolution requesting CDPH change mask requirements—effectively asking that masks no longer be mandatory.
Trustees and CUSD officials have repeatedly said they must follow state health guidelines, emphasizing that whether students have to wear masks is outside their jurisdiction. Some parents and trustees have spoken in favor of continued mask wearing and following CDPH guidelines.
The upcoming 2021-22 school year officially starts Aug. 17, with CUSD students returning full-time, five days a week, on campus.
Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.