CDPH memo provides guidance for local masking decision-making

The California Department of Public Health issued a memo March 7 reminding education stakeholders that the statewide universal indoor masking requirement in K-12 schools will transition to a strong recommendation that staff and students continue to wear masks indoors, effective end-of-day March 11.

The memo is also meant to support local health and education partners in decision-making, which should include several factors that paint a holistic picture of the situation in each community.

“California affirms the authority of local health departments and local educational agencies to maintain or establish masking requirements for K-12 school settings in their respective jurisdictions,” the memo reads. “When making the determination of whether a local universal indoor masking requirement should be maintained or established in K-12 school settings, CDPH recommends local health and education officials confer, with consideration of the factors listed below. Reliance on the composite situation, rather than any one single factor, is recommended when making determinations.”

The following are factors that local educational agencies and health departments should confer upon when determining whether a local universal indoor masking requirement should be maintained or established, according to the CDPH:

Pandemic patterns and pathogen characteristics

  • local epidemiology, including COVID-19 case rates, test positivity and hospitalization data;
  • evidence suggestive of heightened in-school transmission (i.e., clear outbreaks in school and persistent transmission due in-school exposures); and
  • circulating variant characteristics, including concern regarding increased virulence, immune evasion and/or treatment effectiveness.

Prevention, assessment and treatment of COVID-19

  • school, LEA and/or community vaccination rates;
  • indoor air quality at school-based facilities, including use of recommended strategies to improve ventilation and/or filtration;
  • availability and accessibility of masks with good fit and filtration;
  • availability and accessibility of prompt and regular COVID-19 testing; and
  • ability to provide treatments for COVID-19 in a timely and equitable fashion as they become available for children.

Population characteristics

  • local demographics, including serving specialized populations of individuals at high risk of severe disease and/or immunocompromised populations, and any additional protective measures that can be implemented for those students;
  • equity considerations, including serving communities disproportionately exposed to and impacted by COVID-19;
  • staffing considerations, including the ability to maintain in-person instruction (e.g., monitoring for staff infections and exposures); and
  • community input, including from student, parent/guardian and staff populations.

New information and guidance updates will be continually added to the state’s Safe Schools Hub.