December 5, 2021

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California to Require Masks for All Children in Schools, Despite CDC Guidance

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Students sit behind barriers and use tablets during an in-person English class at St. Anthony Catholic High School during the Covid-19 pandemic on March 24, 2021 in Long Beach, California. – The school of 445 students implemented a hybrid learning model, with approximately 60 percent of students returning to in an in-person classroom learning environment with Covid-19 safety measures including face masks, social distancing, plexiglass barriers around desks, outdoor spaces, and schedule changes. (Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

California will force children to wear masks in schools in the fall, despite federal guidance released Friday that recommended against requiring face coverings for kids who are fully vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19.

“Masking is a simple and effective intervention that does not interfere with offering full in-person instruction,” said California Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Mark Ghaly in a statement.

“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,” he added.

California made the announcement hours after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in updated guidance, recommended all schools fully reopen in the fall and advised against forcing children who get fully vaccinated against the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus to wear masks.

“Masks should be worn indoors by all individuals (age 2 and older) who are not fully vaccinated,” the agency said.

No COVID-19 vaccines are authorized in the United States for children younger than 12 at this time.

The recommendations drew support and negative reactions.

Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Irvine, called the masking piece “sensible policy,” at least “unless and until we have new variants that evade the vaccine.”

Some said no kids, even the unvaccinated, should be made to wear masks.

“The focus should be children and their needs. No masks. Normal, normal ASAP,” said Dr. Shvete Raju, a primary care doctor in Georgia.

California officials said their masking policies stemmed from many schools being unable to accommodate distancing of at least three feet between people, another part of the CDC guidance.

“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,” Ghaly said.

CDC guidance is typically not in the form of mandates but has been adopted by many states during the COVID-19 pandemic with few changes.

The federal agency did not include any citations supporting its masking recommendations. It did not return an inquiry for studies that contributed to its masking guidance. Children are at much lower risk of contracting COVID-19 than adults and, when they do, are at much lower risk of suffering severe cases of the disease, according to federal data and a score of studies (pdf).

The World Health Organization also updated its recommendations on COVID-19 vaccinations last month, saying that children “should not be vaccinated for the moment.”

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