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State Health Officials: Keep COVID-19 Masks To Your Back-To-School Shopping List

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/BCN) -- As San Francisco Bay Area schools are finalizing plans for their first mass reopening since March 2020, state health officials say students will still be required to wear masks when they return to campuses for the 2021-2022 academic year.

So you'll need to keep COVID-19 masks on your back to school shopping list.

"We need to lean in heavier on masking, use our testing resources and depend less on the recommendation around physical distancing," said California Health & Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly.

California has ordered that all schools reopen to in-classroom instruction in August.

Ghaly said that not all schools can accommodate physical distancing of at least 3 feet or more, so the best preventive measure is wearing masks indoors.

"Everybody believes having the option for full-day, all-kids, all-schools, in-person is the way to go," Ghaly said. "The CDC said it. We've been saying it for a while. So, we all agree."

But there is still much work to be done to protect school-age youngsters. Currently, vaccinations are limited to Californians 12 years old and older. Still only 34 percent of school-age children eligible for vaccination have received a dose of COVID vaccine.

"That's another reason to start out with a masking requirement across the state," Ghaly said. "We want to see those numbers come up. And that will help us re-think this down the road."

The state guidelines strike a fair balance between safety and the need to reopen campuses, said Edgar Zazueta, senior director of policy and government relations for the Association of California School Administrators. Requiring masks can help compensate for the loss of social distancing rules.

"All things considered, it's a fair trade-off," he said. "There will undoubtedly be many families who are upset the state is continuing the mask mandate, but other families will be relieved."

The California Teachers Association was also supportive of the state's guidelines, adding that schools should become community vaccination centers.

"We know this pandemic is not over, but due to the availability of vaccines and multiple safety measures put into place and practice, as well as the road map provided by today's science-based guidance, school communities are in a good position to ensure safe in-person instruction for students this fall," said union spokesperson Lisa Gardiner.

"As CTA has said all along, learning happens best in-person, and educators want to be with their students in classrooms."

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