State guidance still under discussion
Though the state unleashed new guidance for masking and social distancing Tuesday — essentially removing mask requirements in many places for vaccinated folks — questions remain about how the updated guidelines will apply in specific sectors.
One area that remains uncertain is the masking policy for schools this fall.
While most schools are now on summer break, multiple members of the Board of Supervisors raised questions during a meeting Tuesday about what the masking policy will look like when it’s time to go back to school.
“This is definitely the question I’m getting most often from folks,” Supervisor Das Williams said Tuesday, asking for updates from public health officials on the masking policy for schools.
As of right now, all schools require masks for students indoors regardless of their vaccination status, while allowing students to remove face coverings when they are outdoors. This same policy applies to children’s camps this summer.
The state has been reviewing the guidance for schools for about a month to determine the best course of action for the fall, yet no updated policy has been released.
According to Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county public health officer, developing new guidance for schools will require talking with the many stakeholders involved. The new masking policy, he added, spans beyond a public health lens and must be vetted by a number of other local and state officials.
“It’s a very lengthy process because many stakeholders are involved,” Dr. Ansorg told the News-Press. “You have parents, you have teachers, you have teachers unions, you have the children and students, so there are a lot of stakeholders … so that’s why guidance for schools takes a little longer to develop.”
Dr. Ansorg said a big factor that will likely impact masking policy in schools is the progress of vaccine trials for children 2 and older. Currently, both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are undergoing clinical trials for young children and babies, and Dr. Ansorg said he expects emergency approval for these vaccines to be issued by October.
With children under the age of 12 making up about 15% of Santa Barbara County’s population, approval of the vaccine for young children could make a big difference once the school year rolls around, Dr. Ansorg said.
“(The vaccine) would make a big difference for the schools if children 2 years and older can get the shot,” the public health officer said. “That would make it much safer for the children.”
He added that the 15% of children under age 12 make up a significant chunk of the county’s unvaccinated population because they are not eligible for the shot.
Though state guidance on masking in schools is still pending, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to release updated guidance for the 2021-22 school year in the coming weeks.
But for now, the guidance remains unchanged. Masks are required in school buildings for all people, whether they are fully vaccinated or not.