Gov. Newsom announces no change to school masking policy because unions said not yet

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Last Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said changes to the state’s school mask mandate would be coming soon. The state’s indoor mask mandate for the vaccinated ends Tuesday and the expectation reported at several news sites was that a change to the school policy would be announced today. But today came and instead of announcing a change, Newsome sent California’s HHS Secretary out to issue a two week delay:


While many Californians will be able to remove masks in most indoor settings starting Tuesday, schoolchildren and teachers will have to wait. Newsom had flagged Monday as the day to watch for a revision regarding schools, then sent the state’s top health official to deliver the message of a delay.

“The message today, which I hope is clear, is today a change isn’t being made,” California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said in an online announcement. Ghaly said his department will reassess on Feb. 28 whether the rule should change.

Ghaly said Monday that COVID-19 cases in California have dropped by more than 75% since mid-January, but the state was not yet ready to make masks optional in schools. He declined to answer repeated questions on what role teachers unions played in Monday’s decision.

So why the change? There’s really no doubt about that. California’s teacher’s unions demanded more time and as always they got what they wanted. Over the weekend Politico published a story about the union’s demands:

The classroom was always going to be the last stand for the mask wars in California. Schools stayed closed longer here than anywhere else in the country as teachers unions made access to vaccines a condition of their return. More recently, teachers have demanded better masks and more testing to guard against the Omicron variant.

Gov. Gavin Newsom seems ready to eliminate mask requirements in schools, as his counterparts in New Jersey, Oregon and Connecticut did this week. But Newsom cannot go where teachers unions aren’t ready, as was the case with school reopening a year ago…

The California Teachers Association, which has more than 300,000 members, declined to comment on its discussions with the Newsom administration. The state’s second-largest teachers union, the 120,000-member California Federation of Teachers, says any end to mask restrictions must have sufficient justification beyond political reasons.


The CTA wouldn’t talk to Politico but after Gov. Newsom issued his delay the group’s president issued a statement praising his “cautious approach.”

We support the administration’s decision to pause and gather more information to make a science-based decision on school masking that responds to this moment in the pandemic and helps the state transition with an eye on equity.

But at least one doctor from UCSF questioned whether the delay made sense given that vaccinated adults won’t have to wear masks indoors starting tomorrow.

Dr. Monica Gandhi, a UCSF Infectious Diseases Specialist questions if it is a fair approach for the state to keep masking school kids but lift restrictions for everyone else.

“If the state is allowing mask optional for adults that same approach should be applied for children. Using metric-based approaches with objective criteria to release mask mandates consistently across a state will increase trust in public health authorities,” Gandhi said.

Dr. Gandhi says vaccinations (greater than 70%) and COVID-19 hospitalization (per day per 100,000) benchmarks have been met across most places in California and the state should have a metric that is applied fairly across populations.

The same story quotes two other doctors who say the delay is the right move. Maybe in two weeks the numbers will be low enough that no one will be able to defend this policy anymore. That seems to be what Newsom is counting on but you can bet that, at least until the CDC completely pulls the rug out from under them, teacher’s unions are going to continue making demands for more mandates.


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