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School officials in Orange County, California, won't require students to socially distance or wear face masks this fall

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K-12 students in Orange County, California, can return to the classroom this fall without the need to wear face masks or abide by social distancing requirements, the Orange County Board of Education voted Tuesday. The decision comes as the Golden State is seeing a surge of coronavirus cases and Orange County showing the third-highest number of infections in the state.

"K-12 children represent the lowest-risk cohort for COVID-19. Because of that fact, social distancing of children and reduced census classrooms is not necessary and therefore not recommended," the Board explained in a document published online. "Requiring children to wear masks during school is not only difficult — if not impossible to implement — but not based on science. It may even be harmful and is therefore not recommended."

California saw 7,346 new confirmed cases of coronavirus on Monday, a 2.2% increase in a single day, according state health officials. Children and teens up to 17 years old make up more than 8% of the state's cases. Orange County is one of the top areas in the state for the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

The Board also cited the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in saying that children "play a very minor role" in spreading COVID-19, and that teachers and staff are in "greater danger of infection from other adults."

However, they did not acknowledge the AAP's statement that students over age 2 and staff wearing face masks can "greatly reduce the risk" of the spread of the coronavirus. In the same statement, the AAP also said social distancing is "fundamental" to lowering the spread risk. 

For elementary schools specifically, the AAP recommends children wear face masks, desks be placed 3 to 6 feet apart and that schools cohort classes. The organization recommended that middle and high schools enforce face coverings when 6-foot social distancing isn't possible, desks be placed 3 to 6 feet apart, and schools cohort classes, rotate teachers instead of students around classrooms, and utilize outdoor spaces when possible. 

To help limit the spread of the coronavirus, the Orange County Board said schools "should" do the following: perform regular temperature checks, send home people who appear sick, thoroughly clean school property each night and "encourage" frequent hand-washing and use of hand sanitizer.

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Participation in reopening of public education, the Board said, should be voluntary. They said the decided upon guidelines are not laws or regulations, and that parents "are in the best position" to make decisions about their children's education.

The Board said that Orange County's decision to close K-12 schools in March was "reasonable at the time," according to the meeting agenda, but their experts said "continuing the shutdown despite new science and data ... has been a mistake with disastrous implications for children, their families and community."

California, Florida and Texas are responsible for 1 out of every 5 new cases of coronavirus in the world. California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered on Monday the closure of indoor businesses in the state, including restaurants, bars and movie theaters to limit the spread of the virus.

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