Despite cases collapsing, California will still require masks in schools after fully reopening next week

This isn’t a “California rule,” it’s CDC guidance. Despite encouraging vaccinated people last month to ditch masks for nearly all activities, the agency recommended that everyone keep masking up in schools for the foreseeable future. That was a nod to the fact that kids under 12 still aren’t eligible to be vaccinated and are therefore technically vulnerable, even though COVID rarely causes infected children any trouble. The CDC’s motto since the start of the pandemic has been “abundance of caution” and they’re following that to the bitter end with kids.

And by doing so, they’re ignoring their own science. A study conducted last November and December, before the vaccines were widely available, found no meaningful difference in infection rates between schools that required kids to mask and schools that didn’t. There *was* a difference between schools that required teachers and staff to mask versus those that didn’t — there were fewer infections where masks were mandatory for adults — but that issue should be moot now that vaccines are plentiful. If a teacher’s been immunized, they don’t need a mask. If they haven’t, fine, make them mask up. And kids shouldn’t need masks regardless.

California’s sticking with mask mandates for schools anyway, the state’s HHS director announced today. What’s perplexing about that is that there’s hardly any state in America that’s done better with the pandemic over the last several months than Cali has. COVID is essentially over there. And yet there’s no reprieve for children:

In short, Californians who are two weeks removed from their last vaccine dose will be allowed to go mask-free in nearly all settings, with some exceptions that include transit hubs or aboard public transportation; in healthcare settings and long-term care facilities; indoors at K-12 schools, childcare facilities or other youth settings; in homeless shelters, emergency shelters and cooling centers; and in correctional facilities and detention centers.

Why are high schools still subject to mask mandates when kids over age 12 are already eligible for vaccination?

It’s worth pausing here to glance at the numbers and absorb just how well California is doing with COVID:

On January 2, their positivity rate stood a hair below 18 percent. Cases per 100,000 people hovered at around 100 at the time; today it’s 2.5. The state’s biggest county, Los Angeles, is outperforming even the statewide numbers, with a positivity rate of 0.3 percent and 1.8 cases per 100,000. Some major population centers, like San Diego, Santa Clara, and San Francisco, have vaccination rates approaching or exceeding 70 percent(!).

And yet, masks for kids in school.

I can only assume that they’re sticking with the mask guidance because they’re spooked about the Indian variant, B.1.617. Fauci said yesterday at a briefing that the variant is spreading mainly among adolescents and young adults in the UK since that’s a cohort with lower rates of vaccination. There’s also reason to believe that the variant might be more prevalent in western U.S. states like California than it is in the rest of the country. In Britain, absences among schoolkids have risen lately, especially in B.1.617 hot spots:

An estimated 1.8 per cent of England’s state school pupils did not attend school on 27 May, which is the highest figure across the summer term to date, according to government figures.

This was even higher in some known hotspots of the Delta variant, with one third of pupils out of the Bolton secondary schools who replied to the Department for Education (DfE) poll…

Paul Whiteman from the school leaders’ union NAHT said: “Although the number of children not attending school due to Covid is low overall, there has been a distinct rise – and the national figures mask huge regional differences due to the prevalence of the Delta, or Indian, variant in some areas.”

Not all kids who were out of school were necessarily infected. Some had been in close contact with someone who was and were home as a precaution. But U.S. health officials must be looking at that and wondering if the Indian variant, the most contagious strain yet, might be capable of turning schools into hubs of transmission where milder strains of COVID failed to do so.

While we’re on the subject of California and its students, check out which part of the country is faring the worst in getting children back into classrooms:

Timothy Carney doesn’t live in California but he’s dealt with the frustration of kids being kept out of class all year for no reason. He speaks for many parents here, I’m sure:

By the way, contra the trend in Republican-governed states like Texas and Florida, California also announced today that they’re giving business multiple options to bar unvaccinated customers from entering if they so choose. Quote: “Ghaly said operators can either allow customers to self-attest that they’re vaccinated, and therefore can enter without wearing a mask, implement some kind of vaccine verification system or require all patrons to wear a mask.” Not only that, said Ghaly, the state will bar businesses from preventing someone from wearing a mask on the premises if they prefer to do so. Compare that to how Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis are handling their states. Americans really do live in two different countries.

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