- Some states have moved forward with plans to end school mask mandates.
- Public health experts warn that we should wait for case numbers to further decline and vaccination rates to increase before ending masking in schools.
- There are ways to help keep your kids safe as guidelines begin to shift.
After the Omicron variant wreaked havoc on public schools during the month of January, cases are finally starting to recede. Now, some schools are reconsidering their mask mandates.
Earlier this month, a number of elected officials, at both the local and state level, voiced their support to end the school mask mandates that have been a primary tool to keeping schools open and kids safe during the pandemic.
While some feel that the Omicron surge has signaled a new beginning-of-the-end phase of the pandemic, many experts are raising the red flag and urging political leaders to rethink their plan to end school mandates and to instead follow the science.
“In general, I think it’s too soon to broadly lift mask mandates across schools,” Alok Patel, MD, pediatric hospitalist at Stanford Children’s Health, told Verywell via email. “These decisions should take several local factors into account such as hospital capacity, community transmission, and vaccination rates.”
What Public Health Experts are Saying
In an open letter published on February 9, a group of epidemiologists, practitioners, and public health experts from Columbia University warned elected officials that calling off school mask mandates this soon can be dangerous since COVID-19 is still a public health crisis among children.
While they agree that lifting mask mandates is the ultimate goal, they encourage policy makers to use clear scientific measures and careful consideration before deciding when to lift school mask mandates.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on Wednesday, February 16, during a White House pandemic press briefing, that they would be working on relevant guidance but will still be promoting measures where they are needed to protect the public.
“We want to give people a break from things like mask-wearing when these metrics are better, and then have the ability to reach for them again should things worsen,” Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, director of the CDC, stated during the briefing.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than 4.6 million child COVID-19 cases have been reported since early January. School mask mandates have helped reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the classroom, according to recent CDC studies focusing on the effectiveness of school masking policies.
“Masking in schools, when done correctly, can reduce COVID transmission, school closures, and keep students in an in-person learning environment,” Patel said.
How States and School Districts Are Responding
Numerous states have lifted mask mandates or plan to. Connecticut, New Jersey, Oregon, Delaware, Nevada, and Washington have all announced plans to end their school mask mandates in the coming weeks if they haven’t already.
Governors of these states say masks are no longer needed in schools because they have higher than average vaccination rates, and declining cases and hospital admissions.
While California’s state mask mandate expired on February 15, the state has yet to announce a timeline for ending masking in schools. However, a few school districts around the state capitol of Sacramento decided to take matters into their own hands and adopt a mask optional policy allowing students and families to decide if they would wear a mask in the classroom.
This was largely due to pressure from upset parents and students. Despite this pushback, California is hesitant to end the school mandate on a statewide level.
“Masking at schools is an effective tool to minimize the spread of COVID,” a California Department of Public Health spokesperson told Verywell via email. “California’s common-sense policies, like masking, have resulted in some of the lowest COVID rates and closures. While California educated approximately 12% of students in the US, we accounted for only about 1% of all school closures in the last month.”
What This Means For You
If you’re worried about your child’s school possibly shifting mask guidelines, you can still send your kid to school with a mask and encourage their school to take other COVID-19 safety precautions.
What Can Parents Do?
While this debate plays out on the political stage, many parents may be concerned about the health and well-being of their children attending schools in a mask-free environment.
Some experts have shared a few steps uncertain parents can take to prepare their kids in places where mask mandates are being lifted:
- You can still send your child to school
- Encourage your schools to improve airflow and ventilation
- Be truthful with our kids about what is going on around them
Overall, it is important to do what is best for your family, and be patient as guidelines shift.
The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.