This tumultuous year has proven the essential nature of nonpartisan local news. Every day we bring you news critical to staying informed and active in the community. Join us with a tax-deductible donation.

In California schools, masks will continue to be worn in the classroom, according to the California Department of Public Health.

The announcement, sent in a press release to the Voice of OC, comes following updated guidance on Covid-19 prevention at K-12 schools from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The State department of public health is expected to put out their updated guidance on K-12 schools on Monday July 12.

“There’s no substitute for in-person instruction, and today’s CDC guidance clearly reinforces that as a top priority, issuing recommendations for how schools throughout the country can get there. Here in California, we’ll get there through continued masking and robust testing capacity,” said Dr. Tomás Aragón, Director of the California Department of Public Health and State Public Health Officer in the release.

All vaccinated students and teachers can go without a mask indoors, according to CDC guidelines updated today.

The CDC updated guidelines however recommend 3 feet of social distance between students in the classroom and in cases where social distancing can’t occur say it is important to have multiple strategies in place such as masks inside.

California Health & Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly acknowledged in the press release the state’s school facilities can’t accommodate physical distance. Although social distancing was part of the precautions taken at Orange County Schools last year.

“Masking is a simple and effective intervention that does not interfere with offering full in-person instruction. At the outset of the new year, students should be able to walk into school without worrying about whether they will feel different or singled out for being vaccinated or unvaccinated – treating all kids the same will support a calm and supportive school environment,” he said.

Masked children and instructor gather on the blacktop at a school in Santa Ana on April 27, 2021. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

The CDC also recommends testing, contract testing, handwashing, cleaning and disinfection as well as ventilation of classrooms.

“Though COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred in school settings, multiple studies have shown that transmission rates within school settings, when multiple prevention strategies are in place, are typically lower than – or similar to – community transmission levels,” reads the CDC guidelines.

The guidance encourages schools to promote vaccinations for students, teachers and staff eligible to get the shots.

“Achieving high levels of COVID-19 vaccination among eligible students as well as teachers, staff, and household members is one of the most critical strategies to help schools safely resume full operations,” reads the guidance.

Children under the age of 12 are ineligible to get the vaccine, meaning under the CDC guidance younger students will continue to dawn the mask in the classroom. 

The CDC guidelines also emphasized the benefit from in-person learning, regardless if all the prevention strategies can be implemented at a school.

The updates from the CDC and the expected updates from the state department of public health come on the heels of a resolution passed by the Orange County Board of Education Wednesday recommending that masks be optional for students.

[ Read: Will Masks be Required When Orange County Students Go Back to School in the Fall?]

However, it has always been up to the state and the individual school districts to decide on masks at schools.

The County board’s mask resolution titled “on healthy children” states that children are less likely to spread the virus and have “serious outcomes” from Covid and wearing masks for long periods of time can be extremely harmful.

But not everyone is convinced.

Epidemiologist Sanghyuk Shin, a public health expert at UC Irvine, told the Voice of OC earlier this week that children do contribute to the virus and schools will “definitely” be a place where the virus will be transmitted.

“Children are human beings and they’re going to transmit,” Shin said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Definitely, that has been the case.”

He also said with unvaccinated children gathering together at schools, there is a high likelihood that the virus will spread through younger people.

“I think using masks will help reduce the risk, but I’m not sure how effective it will be if the virus is transmitted at a high rate in schools,” Shin said. “I think masks alone probably may not be as effective.”

He added masks are only one tool in the toolbox of preventing the virus and increased ventilation in schools is needed.

“Many of the buildings are not designed in such a way that that leads to well ventilated areas,” Shin said. “We need to make sure that our schools, our buildings are up to snuff when it comes to ventilation.”

A Franklin Elementary school staff member walks around with cleaning supplies on March 18, 2020. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Officials from various school districts across the county have said they will follow whatever the state guidelines are, although some were hoping the restrictions would loosen up.

Krista Weigand, a trustee on the Newport-Mesa Unified School District Board said she’d like to see her own kids go without the mask.

“I would like to see them not have to wear masks at school but we’re going to follow the guidance, whenever that comes down from (California Department of Public Health),” she said “We have to adhere to those.”

Other trustees are concerned by the loss of learning that occurred last year when classrooms were online.

Gila Jones, the clerk on the board of trustees of the Capistrano Unified School District, said there was a clear and tremendous loss in learning for students during virtual instruction last year, particularly for non-English speaking students and special education students. There was also a loss of learning for students already struggling in school.

“I was very disturbed that the state’s attitude was that districts couldn’t reopen sooner and particularly in South Orange County, our COVID rate was very low,” she said, adding that some parents and students were also unhappy.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.