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California will lift mask mandate as omicron cases fall

Meantime, health officials say they are continuing to evaluate the masking requirement for schoolchildren.
Credit: AP
FILE - People wear face masks at an outdoor mall with closed business amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Los Angeles on June 11, 2021. During earlier surges of the COVID-19 pandemic, some governors ordered business closures, issued mask mandates and required vaccines in certain settings. Some even required quarantines for out-of-state travelers. No more. The record-shattering caseload of the omicron surge has been met with a collective shrug by most governors, who are displaying little appetite for widespread public orders or shutdowns. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California's indoor masking requirement will end next week for vaccinated people but masks still are the rule for schoolchildren.

Gov. Gavin Newsom's administration brought back the masking mandate in mid-December as the omicron variant gained momentum, and last month extended it through Feb. 15. State health officials said Monday the mandate will end that day. 

Local health officials can continue their own requirements.  The state also is lifting a requirement that people test negative before visiting hospitals and nursing homes, effective immediately. Meantime, health officials say they are continuing to evaluate the masking requirement for schoolchildren.

In a tweet from Governor Gavin Newsom, he said California's case rate has dropped by 65% since the omicron peak and that hospitalizations have stabilized across the state.

"Our statewide indoor mask requirement will expire on 2/15. Unvaccinated people will still need to wear masks indoors. Get vaccinated. Get boosted," Newsom said.

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Newsom's message is similar to the message from Sacramento County officials, who say they'll be following the state's lead on the mask mandate.

"Our numbers are heading in the right direction and we are seeing declines in case counts, so this is appropriate for the County," a spokesperson for the county told ABC10.

However, state officials haven't said if changes will be made in schools.

'I don't think we're there yet'

Masking in schools is still needed to protect children from the virus, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

“If the trajectory continues down as it's going, we'll be in a position where we can say we can safely take masks off students in schools, but I don't think we're there yet," said UC Berkeley Epidemiologist Dr. John Swartzberg.

Sharon McKeeman, founder of Let Them Breathe, believes the mandate needs to be lifted for all students, regardless of vaccination status, as some struggle with anxiety and depression.

“They need to see each other’s smiles; they need to connect with their peers," McKeeman said.

"We’re not anti mask. We’re for mask choice. Anyone should have that choice to wear a mask if they want, but they should have that option to unmask this point,” she added.

Infectious disease experts and public health officials say that masking is a proven layer of protection to prevent transmission of the virus, but the strongest tool is vaccination.

"Mask mandate or no mask mandate, vaccination continues to be our way towards a healthier community," said Janna Haynes, spokesperson for Sacramento County Public Health.

State officials say they're working to re-evaluate the mask mandate in schools, and that additional adjustments will be announced this week.

For now, children under five years old are not eligible for a vaccine, but doctors ABC10 spoke with are hopeful that a vaccine will be approved for children six months and older soon.

WATCH ALSO: 

Indoor mask mandate: Sacramento County's new indoor mask mandate reactions

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