California will continue to require that masks be worn in school settings this fall, state officials announced Friday, despite new guidance from the CDC that vaccinated teachers and students don't need to wear them inside school buildings.
California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly expressed the sentiment that the most promising takeaway from the guidance is that there is now a path forward to getting kids back to full in-person learning.
"In places where we don't have the ability to have distancing as one of the other mitigating strategies... masking is the superior form of mitigation," he said. "So starting off our school year with kids masked, coming back safely with 100% of our students able to come in person, was the key strategy."
The mask requirement for indoor school settings "also will ensure that all kids are treated the same," according to a press release from the state Department of Public Health.
"Masking is a simple and effective intervention that does not interfere with offering full in-person instruction. 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," Ghaly said in that statement.
Ghaly sought to emphasize that the state was not in any way deviating from the CDC guidance.
"In fact, we think the CDC's guidance gives California, as well as all other states, an opportunity to put together a plan with safety first, kids back in school, in a very mindful and contextual way," he added.
The nation's top public health agency says schools should continue to space kids - and their desks - 3 feet apart in classrooms. But the CDC emphasized that spacing should not be an obstacle to getting kids back in schools. And it said distancing is not required among fully vaccinated students or staff.
That may prove hard to implement, and that's why CDC is advising schools to make decisions that make the most sense, said Erin Sauber-Schatz, who leads the CDC task force that prepares recommendations designed to keep Americans safe from COVID-19.
"The guidance is really written to allow flexibility at the local level," Sauber-Schatz said.
The new schools guidance says:
-No one at schools needs to wear masks at recess or in most other outdoor situations. However, unvaccinated people are advised to wear masks if they are in a crowd for an extended period of time, like in the stands at a football game.
-Ventilation and handwashing continue to be important. Students and staff also should stay home when they are sick.
-Testing remains an important way to prevent outbreaks. But the CDC also says people who are fully vaccinated do not need to participate in such screening.
-Separating students into smaller groups, or cohorts, continues to be a good way to help reduce spread of the virus. But the CDC discouraged putting vaccinated and unvaccinated kids in separate groups, saying schools shouldn't stigmatize any group or perpetuate academic, racial or other tracking.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.