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

July 10, 2021 Updated: July 11, 2021

California will force children to wear masks in schools in the fall, despite federal guidance released last week 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 Dr. 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.”

The state made the announcement hours after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in updated guidance, recommended that 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 currently authorized in the United States for children younger than 12.

The recommendations drew support and negative reactions.

Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist at the University of California–Irvine, called the masking strategy “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, which didn’t include any citations in support of its masking recommendations, also didn’t respond to an inquiry about studies that contributed to its masking guidance. Children are at much lower risk of contracting COVID-19 than adults are 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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