California, Oregon and Washington to End Mask Mandates in Schools

California, Oregon and Washington to End Mask Mandates in Schools
Students and parents wearing face coverings wait in line for the first day of the school year at Grant Elementary School in Los Angeles, Calif., on Aug. 16, 2021. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)
Bill Pan

In a coordinated move, governors of California, Oregon, and Washington announced on Monday that students in the three West Coast states will soon no longer have to wear a mask at school.

Starting on March 12, public health departments in all three states will update their indoor mask policies and "move from mask requirements to mask recommendations in schools," according to a joint announcement by leaders of the Western States Pact, namely California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

The changes will apply to all schools and child care facilities, but will not cover school buses, which are subject to a federal mask mandate for public transportation.

In California, masks will no longer be required for unvaccinated individuals as early as March 1. That being said, face coverings will remain mandatory for everyone in certain settings, such as health care and long-term care facilities, prisons, and homeless shelters.

"California continues to adjust our policies based on the latest data and science, applying what we've learned over the past two years to guide our response to the pandemic," said Newsom, who last year survived a recall effort fueled by widespread frustration over his administration's handling of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus that causes COVID-19.

The decision by the West Coast states comes on the heels of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now saying Americans don't have to wear masks if hospitals in their communities aren't overloaded with COVID-19 patients.

"We wanna give people a break from things like mask wearing when our levels are low and then have the ability to reach for them again, should things get worse in the future," said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky at a Feb. 25 press briefing.

Under the new guidance, which shifts its focus from CCP virus transmission rate to the number of patients admitted to local hospitals because of the virus, people residing in counties categorized at "low" or "medium" risk levels are advised they can go indoors without face coverings. Almost 70 percent of Americans live in those counties.

By comparison, the previous CDC guidelines recommended masks for people living in counties considered of having "substantial" or "high" transmission. Over 90 percent of all U.S. counties would fall into those categories.

"As the virus continues to circulate in our communities, we must focus our metrics beyond just cases in the community and direct our efforts toward protecting people at high risk for severe illness and preventing COVID-19 from overwhelming our hospitals and our health care system," Walensky said.