California ‘getting close’ to ending school masking requirement, top health official says

California ‘getting close’ to ending school masking requirement, top health official says

“Masking requirements were never put in place to be there forever,” Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said. “It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when.”



So I want to just take a moment and talk about schools. You know, this has been really important as a pediatrician, a father of four, something that I talk a lot about at home with my own kids, uh, in my community with many of the leaders throughout the state, not just in health and public health, but beyond about this important conversation next slide. So I want to just highlight that through the leadership of so many in the education community, among our elected leaders, county cities, school districts, the state. Uh, there has been a winning formula put together that mitigation and the outcomes of this year. Put, put push towards. We have put in Over 31 million Californians have stepped up to get vaccinated when adults get vaccinated that supports the kids. When kids get vaccinated that supports the other kids and their siblings. And this has been a tremendous work. We still have work to do. I’m not dismissing that, but it’s important to celebrate the success of the vaccination effort here in California. Yes. Still equity gaps, still work to do to get more. Our youngest Californians vaccinated at rates that we want to see go up and we really hope and expect will go up as more time is seen to confirm the safety And the effectiveness of the vaccines and more families and caregivers and Children get their questions about the vaccine answered by trusted messengers in their community, their healthcare providers. We really are leaning in to get this number up $850 million dollars invested in school safety protocols throughout the last two years that have made a difference whether that staff who are aware and able to do the important work to keep schools safe for improvements in ventilation, setting up testing programs. Um, just a tremendous amount of work. $23.5 million million. High quality mass sent to school staff. Uh, six million tests. Almost six million tests administered at schools to date. Those are state supported school testing sites, many others that are county supported or school district supported as well. Um, And then a tremendous amount of work to get over 15 million at home tests distributed to schools. Many of them the vast majority just since the middle of December when Oh, Macron began to rear its head. So this set of mitigating factors, these approaches that we’ve gone over today, and many many other times leaning and supporting schools so that they are world class and as safe as any. When it comes to covid transmission takes something that we have done and plan to continue to lean into even as other changes happen. The presence, the availability of these important tools, not just only when we need them the most, but to keep us confident in where the data is moving, where communities and settings are moving is going to be key in something that we continue to be committed to next slide. And this winning formula plays out in the national data as well. Uh, we have 12% of the students in the country here in California schools. Uh and we have experienced less than 1% of school closures this year. You can see that throughout the nation that there are pockets where many many schools have closed and that is directly related to how we have managed and supported the schools through two really large surges this year Tremendous challenges and all the while focused on keeping schools safe keeping schools with students in person. Uh and this less than 1% is something I think so many Californians can be proud of through the discourse and dialogue and the discussion about what to do next. The value of what we’ve done. I think this slide speaks volumes to the efforts that we continue to work towards next slide. So our approach has been focused on humility. Uh The governor often says humility or being humble is one of the most important things we’ve all learned throughout this pandemic. Being flexible and being focused on the evidence, California has never been afraid to lead on schools. We are stubbornly focused on safety implementing the evidence and our experiences inform these policies. We were even ahead of the C. D. C. Ahead of the american Academy of Pediatrics implore you know implemented universal masking at the start of the school year. A key feature in helping us achieve what we’ve done. We’ve adopted smarter testing policies including increasing the use of antigen and over the counter tests. I just went over some key data on how many have been sent to schools throughout the last many weeks. I think a real deep commitment that not only is California, one of the only states that can do what we’ve done, but that we have done it is important and then uh, constantly working to be a state that learns. We talk about, I often talk about how I want California to be one of the states that learns the most and the fastest that we have not been afraid to move away from some mitigation approaches in favors of other ones that are more strongly supported by the data. We’ve done that by shifting away from physical distancing as a key strategy or even our move away from individual contact tracing the group contact tracing in some school districts has been important. Not that this is the only place where we end up, we will continue to move according to the science according to the information we have to ensure that Californians are doing all we can to keep our schools safe for students for staff for families and communities at large. Next lab. Uh, and I also just want to talk about what is informing our approach. We’ve talked about some of this already. We are prioritizing heavily in person instruction. There’s no substitute, particularly for vulnerable populations. Schools are not just a place where people, young people get educated. It’s where many receive their meals. It’s where many receive specialized services. It’s where many depend on important social interactions and not just prioritizing in person education, but prioritizing safe in person education. We must continue to work to ensure that low risk of catching covid in schools that we’ve seen throughout this year. It’s totally achievable that we maintain that for our staff and our students, we continue to work with school and education leaders, public health leaders across the state to make sure we’re staying current and doing what we can to uh to to to uh create this environment in in schools. Uh and that masking requirements were never put in place to be there forever. Uh It isn’t a question of when but uh it’s not a question of if it’s a question of when and I’ll get into a little bit of that in a minute and that we will always remain prepared to adjust with the conditions of the virus. We demonstrated that with a macron, we did it with delta. We will do it again if there are future variants or if any of the current variants that we’ve seen before rear their heads again. Next slide. So where are we going? So based on our data, it’s reasonable. I shared a lot of good important data that’s directionally coming down and coming down fast that we’re getting to a place where we can uh relax the statewide masking requirement in school. We will today not make a change. There will be no change in the masking requirement, but on February 28 full two weeks from now, uh, we will reassess the data, What does that mean? It means we’re going to look at uh, information on case rates, confirm what I just showed you that we believe is going to happen, which are the case numbers will continue to come down, test, positivity will come down, hospitalizations, Both adult and pediatric will come down and we’re watching vaccine rates. We will use this opportunity to remind uh students families that this is a great chance to get vaccinated, that vaccines are free, safe and effective. That they do a lot to help protect. Not just the individuals, but the community at large. And we’re going to look at all of these different factors as well as trends around the globe in the nation, ensuring that we aren’t seeing upticks and increases down the road. And that on February 28, we anticipate being able to uh share what the next period of time will look like. And with some specificity, give give a date when the masking requirement will move to a recommendation. We also know that this takes time that uh, not just the school community, but communities at large families uh, need time to prepare need time to have conversations in their communities about what local conditions might apply, whether added protections are going to be considered and that those can be implemented safely. The one thing that has been important throughout our entire response especially, but not only in schools but especially in schools, is that we don’t make hasty decisions. We will take the collection of information together to make a decision that is good for California broadly. We also know that local communities are having these conversations today and although the state sets a an important bar that where people can’t be less restrictive than the state, they can certainly begin to add layers of protection uh in their communities as they see fit in those conversations. Take them So again, to emphasize that no change to school masking requirements now And then on February 28, coming together again having assessed and reassessed the information to make an announcement as to where we will go moving forward next slide. And so as I said, this reassessment looking in two weeks is not going to be about a single indicator, it’s going to be about a composite look, things like cases, things like hospitalizations, vaccination rates. As I mentioned, vaccines save lives, save lives. But their impact takes weeks to make a difference. So we will continue to prioritize getting vaccine rates up and students and use us as an opportunity to encourage families to go forward and get vaccinated if it’s something you’ve been considering and then as I said, following those national and global global trends and understand their impact in California will be important next slide

California ‘getting close’ to ending school masking requirement, top health official says

“Masking requirements were never put in place to be there forever,” Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said. “It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when.”

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are rapidly falling in California to the point where health officials are getting close to ditching the state’s mask mandate in schools. But the state’s top health official said he’s not ready to pull the trigger just yet, though he “anticipates” being able to announce in two weeks a likely end date. “Masking requirements were never put in place to be there forever,” Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said. “It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when.”Ghaly said that cases, hospitalizations, vaccination rates and national and global trends would all play a role over the next two weeks as the state reassesses conditions. On Feb. 28, Ghaly said he plans to announce when the mandate would move to “a strong recommendation.” Pandemic trends are moving in the right direction, he said. Ghaly said that COVID-19 cases are down more than 75% from a month ago and hospitalizations among those with the virus have fallen more than 40%. The test positivity rate has fallen nearly 73% for the same period, he said. The state’s rate was 6.2% as of Monday, compared to 22.9% on Jan. 14. He said that California’s approach on schools so far has been a “winning formula” because California has the most K-12 public school students in the country – 12% – but schools in the state have experienced fewer school closures than others, less than 1%.Asked what he would say to parents who think it’s already past time to unmask their kids, Ghaly said he understands such frustration. But he said the state was taking the time to confirm that data trends remain headed in the same direction.The decision to downgrade a mandate to a recommendation on masks will be “met with excitement from some and fear from others,” he said. Ghaly’s announcement comes as the state’s mandate that vaccinated people wear masks indoors is set to expire after Tuesday. Masking will still be required for unvaccinated people and at health care facilities and places like jails and long-term care facilities. Ghaly said masking indoors will still be “strongly recommended” for everyone.

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are rapidly falling in California to the point where health officials are getting close to ditching the state’s mask mandate in schools. But the state’s top health official said he’s not ready to pull the trigger just yet, though he “anticipates” being able to announce in two weeks a likely end date.

“Masking requirements were never put in place to be there forever,” Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said. “It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when.”

Ghaly said that cases, hospitalizations, vaccination rates and national and global trends would all play a role over the next two weeks as the state reassesses conditions. On Feb. 28, Ghaly said he plans to announce when the mandate would move to “a strong recommendation.”

Pandemic trends are moving in the right direction, he said. Ghaly said that COVID-19 cases are down more than 75% from a month ago and hospitalizations among those with the virus have fallen more than 40%.

The test positivity rate has fallen nearly 73% for the same period, he said. The state’s rate was 6.2% as of Monday, compared to 22.9% on Jan. 14.

He said that California’s approach on schools so far has been a “winning formula” because California has the most K-12 public school students in the country – 12% – but schools in the state have experienced fewer school closures than others, less than 1%.

Asked what he would say to parents who think it’s already past time to unmask their kids, Ghaly said he understands such frustration. But he said the state was taking the time to confirm that data trends remain headed in the same direction.

The decision to downgrade a mandate to a recommendation on masks will be “met with excitement from some and fear from others,” he said.

Ghaly’s announcement comes as the state’s mandate that vaccinated people wear masks indoors is set to expire after Tuesday. Masking will still be required for unvaccinated people and at health care facilities and places like jails and long-term care facilities.

Ghaly said masking indoors will still be “strongly recommended” for everyone.

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