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With Most Indoor Mask Restrictions Lifting, Questions About Schools' Policy Remain

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- California's indoor mask mandate for vaccinated adults will expire this week but there's still no official word about the status of face-covering requirements in schools.

Many experts believe the state's updated policy on school masking, expected any day now, will be tied to vaccine uptake by kids.

That number varies widely county by county and could delay rolling back mandates in the schools.

Parents of a growing online movement across the country -- called "Mask Choice" -- say ending school restrictions is overdue.

"A lot of the states that are still hanging on to these mandates are all seeing parent groups pop up like this and they have a real voice collectively," said Katie Adams of Mask Choice Marin.

Gov. Newsom acknowledged the heated debate but pointed to the low vaccination rate among children.

"Policymakers are clearly shifting the burden onto individuals to try to protect themselves based on their own measure of their risk and the risk of their environment. It's incumbent upon policymakers to give people the tools to do that," said former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb.

In California fewer 33 percent of children between age 5 and 11 are fully vaccinated. In San Francisco, it's fifty percent and in Marin, it's 70 percent.

Health experts argue whether tying school mask rules to child vaccination rates is the right move.

"If kids were at a particularly high level threat from COVID you could potentially make that argument," said UCSF director of COVID response Dr. Jeanne Noble.

"If we're still seeing a lot of COVID cases in the community, it may make sense to tie it to vaccinations," said UCSF infectious disease specialist Dr. Peter Chin-Hong.

Dr. Chin-Hong believes lifting the school mandate now with current case rates, will lead to more transmission and student absences.

"We want the kids to stay in their seats as long as possible and not have any disruptions to classes. So as long as there's a little bit of virus circulating around. wearing a mask for some kids is a good idea," said Chin-Hong.

But Dr. Noble argues that even unvaccinated kids are at a flu-level risk now and there's no high-quality data suggesting that masking children reduces COVID transmission in schools.

"Not a single randomized control trial shows that masking children reduces COVID transmission so very little to gain here and a lot to lose," Dr. Noble said.

Even if the state lifts the mandate, counties can choose to be more restrictive.

The California Teachers Association has told KPIX it won't comment on this matter until state officials make a formal announcement about school masking.

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