The state rules are a deviation from federal guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued on July 9 that say only unvaccinated individuals are required to wear masks in schools.
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) on Monday evening updated guidance released earlier that day, which initially said “schools must exclude students from campus if they are not exempt from wearing a face covering under CDPH guidelines and refuse to wear one provided by the school,” according to the Pasadena Star-News.
“UPDATE: California’s school guidance will be clarified regarding masking enforcement, recognizing local schools’ experience in keeping students and educators safe while ensuring schools fully reopen for in-person instruction,” the CDPH tweeted.
The updated guidelines say “schools must develop and implement local protocols to enforce the mask requirements” and “offer alternative educational opportunities for students who are excluded from campus because they will not wear a face covering.”
California Health & Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said Friday that the mask mandate was implemented not only to reduce the risk of children contracting COVID-19 without social distancing but also to avoid the singling out of unvaccinated students.
“We applaud the CDC’s commitment to ensuring that schools are fully, safely opened for in-person instruction,” Ghaly said in a news release, according to the Los Angeles Daily News. “… Masking is a simple and effective intervention that does not interfere with offering full in-person instruction. At the outset of the new year, students should be able to walk into school without worrying about whether they will feel different or singled out for being vaccinated or unvaccinated – treating all kids the same will support a calm and supportive school environment.”
The CDPH recorded 8,910 new COVID-19 cases Monday and 96 deaths. More than 60% of the state’s population has been fully vaccinated.
The CDC said in January there is “little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.” In February, the agency said the adverse effects of virtual learning outweigh the threat of transmitting the virus during in-school learning.
“There is more spread that is happening in the community when schools are not open than when schools are open,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters at the time.