Schoolchildren in California, Oregon, and Washington will no longer be required to wear masks as part of new indoor mask policies the Democratic governors of all three states announced jointly on Monday. "With declining case rates and hospitalizations across the West, California, Oregon, and Washington are moving together to update their masking guidance," the governors said in a statement. There are more than 7.5 million school-age children across the three states. The new guidance will make face coverings a recommendation rather than a requirement at most indoor places in California starting Tuesday and at schools on March 12, regardless of vaccination status, the AP reports. In Washington and Oregon, all the requirements will lift on March 12.
Federal mask requirements will still apply in high-risk indoor settings such as public transportation, airports, and taxis. Rules for other high-risk indoor settings could also vary by state. The milestone, two years in the making, comes as much of the country relaxes public health orders, including school mask mandates, in an effort to restore normalcy and boost economic recovery. The changes reflect a growing sense that the virus is not going away and Americans need to learn to live with it. Earlier this month, California became the first state to formally shift to an endemic approach to the coronavirus with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement of a plan that emphasizes prevention and quick reaction to outbreaks over mandated masking and business shutdowns.
Newsom has come under growing pressure from Republicans and other critics to ease the school mandate, which has increasingly become a polarizing issue among parents in California. While many parents still support wearing masks in schools, others have questioned why it's necessary when they are no longer required to do so in supermarkets and elsewhere. On Feb. 15 California ended an indoor mask requirement for vaccinated people, but at that time left the rule in place for the unvaccinated and for schoolchildren. Starting Tuesday in California, masks will no longer be required but “strongly recommended" for unvaccinated individuals in most indoor settings. The same shift will apply to K-12 schools and child care facilities starting March 12, the statement said. (New York's school mask mandate will be lifted on Thursday.)