SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – Officials with the San Francisco Unified School District announced Monday that masks will continue to be required indoors on campuses after the state drops the indoor mask mandate for schools next month, a decision that appears to be at odds with city health officials and Mayor London Breed's office.
"No changes to SFUSD's masking protocols are going into effect on March 11," the district said in a statement. "Universal indoor masking will continue to be in effect at SFUSD as part of our layered approach to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our schools."
District officials also reiterated that face masks are not required outdoors.
State health officials announced Monday that face coverings inside schools would no longer be required, but "strongly recommended" starting March 12, regardless of vaccination status.
"The strong recommendation is something to reinforce, that we're not just moving from required to optional but that there's gradations here," California health secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said at a briefing on Monday.
Counties and individual school districts continue to have the right to implement stricter requirements.
"As part of the updated guidance released today, public health officials are still recommending that masks be worn in schools. Health officials have stated that masking is one of the least burdensome policies on schools and is effective at curbing transmission," SFUSD went on to say. "It helps prevent infections among students and staff and their families, and reduces missed school days."
District officials said they are in regular contact with the San Francisco Department of Public Health to determine COVID-19 safety protocols and that they would confer with labor group representatives before making major changes.
Following the district's announcement, Mayor London Breed said the city's public health guidance would align with with the state, allowing for schools to drop the mask requirement on March 11.
"[San Francisco Department of Public Health] will work closely with SFUSD and our school community to provide any guidance or assistance needed in the coming days," the mayor tweeted Monday.
"As always, individual entities like school districts and businesses can choose to be more restrictive than the state and local guidelines and people can of course choose to still wear masks. I urge everyone to respect each other's choices during this transition period," Breed said in a subsequent tweet.
Meanwhile, the San Francisco Department of Public health issued their own statement explaining their decision to align with the state's new guidance citing the city's high vaccination rate, at 83% of all residents, including 69% of children ages 5 to 11.
"What enables us to align with the state in recommending but not requiring masking in school and child-care settings is the foundational work we have done as a San Francisco community to keep each other safe throughout this pandemic," Health Officer Dr. Susan Philip said. "Masks are still an important prevention tool for now and in the future, and we may need to rely on masks again if we see new surges in cases or new variants. For now, with case rates continuing to drop, this is a safe step in a direction toward fewer restrictions."
Parents in San Francisco who spoke to KPIX 5 had mixed feelings about potential changes to mask rules.
"My kids will definitely continue to wear them in school," said parent Latoya Pitcher.
Jennie Menke has a kindergartner, who's taking speech therapy and wants the option to choose.
It's hard, but I want my child to be able to breathe and to have it off, and his freedom and have his life come back to normal," Menke said.
Across the bay in Oakland, school officials there said they were waiting for revised guidance from the Alameda County Public Health Department to issue its own guidance before making a decision. The guidance is expected to be released in the coming days.
Along with schools, California health officials announced that masks would no longer be required for the unvaccinated but strongly recommended for all people in most indoor settings as of Tuesday.
Mask requirements remain in place in "high transmission settings" including public transit, emergency shelters, health care settings, correctional facilities and long-term care facilities.
Kenny Choi contributed to this report.
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