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Students, staff no longer mandated to wear masks

Preschool children doing activities.

California will lift its requirement that students and staff wear masks indoors at schools at 11:59 p.m. March 11, making face coverings “strongly recommended” but not mandated, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced this week.

As of Tuesday, meanwhile, the state lifted its requirement that unvaccinated people wear masks in most indoor settings, but masks will be “strongly recommended” for everyone indoors. Masks will also continue to be required for everyone at settings including health-care facilities, transit centers, airports, aboard public transit, in correctional facilities and at homeless shelters and long-term care facilities.

“California continues to adjust our policies based on the latest data and science, applying what we’ve learned over the past two years to guide our response to the pandemic,” Newsom said in a statement. “Masks are an effective tool to minimize spread of the virus and future variants, especially when transmission rates are high. We cannot predict the future of the virus, but we are better prepared for it and will continue to take measures rooted in science to keep California moving forward.”

Under the timeline announced Monday, the state will no longer mandate indoor mask-wearing on school campuses beginning March 12. Individual school districts or counties, however, will have the option of maintaining local requirements if they deem them necessary.

It was not immediately clear if Los Angeles County—which has taken a conservative approach throughout the pandemic in easing public health rules—will  align with the state and lift the school masking requirement. The county has already lifted its outdoor mask-wearing rule at schools and child-care centers.

The announcement comes following the Feb. 25 change in guidance by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which adopted new standards that rely largely on COVID hospital numbers to govern whether masks should be worn. Those new standards—while resulting in mask recommendations being lifted for much of the country—still classified Los Angeles and San Diego counties as having “high” virus activity and urged that people continue to wear masks.

Under the new CDC guidance, both Orange and Riverside counties are in the “medium” category, so the federal guidance does not require mask-wearing.

Despite California’s lifting of indoor mask-wearing requirements, Los Angeles County continues to require face coverings in most indoor settings. However, the county is allowing vaccinated people to remove their masks in indoor locations where all patrons are checked for either a COVID vaccination or a recent negative test.