Masks will be optional for San Diego Unified students, staff and visitors starting April 4, when students return from spring break, the school district announced Friday.
“As COVID-19 cases in our community have started to fall, we have been working with our scientific and medical experts to plan for an ‘off ramp’ to end some of the more restrictive health measures in place,” the district said in an email to staff and families.
San Diego County was classified on Thursday as having a “low” level of COVID-19, meaning it’s unnecessary for masks to be worn indoors — including in schools — according to recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This was the first criterion that needed to be cleared for San Diego Unified School District to consider easing its indoor mask requirement.
California is requiring that masks be worn indoors by students and staff at school until March 11, state officials announced on Monday. After March 11, school districts can decide whether to continue requiring masks or make them optional.
Many local school districts have announced they will make masks optional starting Monday, March 14, including Poway Unified, Ramona Unified, Carlsbad Unified, Cajon Valley Union, La Mesa-Spring Valley, Dehesa and Escondido Union.
A few, like San Diego Unified, have decided to keep requiring masks past March 11. South Bay Union and San Ysidro Elementary both said Friday that they won’t lift the mask requirement at least until spring break.
Others are waiting before making a decision on masks. Sweetwater Union High says it won’t announce anything until March 14. Chula Vista Elementary will have its board decide at its March 9 meeting.
Earlier this week several counties, including San Diego, were in the “high” COVID level category. The CDC’s guidelines outline recommended certain safety measures for counties based on whether they have a low, medium or high COVID level, which is based on case rates and COVID hospitalizations.
San Diego Unified leaders have said they would consult with UC San Diego health experts about the appropriate time to ease its masking requirement once the county exited the “high” level category. On Thursday that happened with new CDC data showing San Diego at the “low” level.
Dr. Howard Taras, a UC San Diego pediatrician who has been advising San Diego Unified and other schools about COVID, said he thinks the county reached the “low” level classification not so much because its coronavirus case rate is very low, but because its COVID hospitalizations are low.
San Diego County had a rate of 159 COVID cases per 100,000 people over the seven days before March 3, according to the CDC.
Taras said deciding when it’s safe to lift the school mask requirement now depends on what people value.
“If you define ‘safe’ as very low likelihood that teachers will need to be out (because of COVID isolation or quarantine) or that students with special health care needs have a very low risk of getting COVID at school, then my answer would be to wait until case rates drop somewhat more,” Taras wrote in an email. “So, it’s really a community values question at this stage.”
San Diego Unified will continue other COVID safety measures including using air filters in classrooms, COVID testing and contact tracing. The district said it also will give students and staff at-home COVID rapid tests to use when they return to school from spring break.