Alameda County aligns with state on dropping indoor mask rule for schools

Alameda County and the City of Berkeley will allow indoor masking to become optional at schools and childcare settings after March 11.

In a statement released this afternoon, the Alameda County Public Health Department announced: "After careful consideration and in the setting of strong improvement in local conditions, Alameda County and the City of Berkeley announced today that they will continue to align with the State’s guidance for K-12 and childcare settings."

The move means masking requirements in those settings will become optional, although still "strongly recommended."

Prior to this announcement today, Alameda County had been the last of the nine Bay Area counties to make a decision, putting schools in the county's 18 school districts and more than 200 private schools in a state of limbo about whether or not to require masks later this month.

On Feb. 28, the California Department of Public Health and Governor Gavin Newsom announced that the state guidelines would change on March 11 to allow students and staff forgo using mask indoors, but with the caveat that "local jurisdictions" could have the final say.

County health departments, individual districts and individual schools within those counties can still choose to keep masks in place after March 11. San Francisco Unified and South San Francisco Unified school districts have decided to continue requiring masks for the foreseeable future.

Others though, like San Ramon Valley Unified School District, said they would drop the indoor mask requirement in less than two weeks.

"We're not the experts here at the school district or the school board," said San Ramon Valley Unified School District Supt. John Malloy. "We listen to our public health leaders. They understand the research, the science, the health issues. When they told we needed to be in masks, we're in masks. When they tell us to make masks optional - because they are the experts -  we will make masks optional."

Alameda County public health officials cited declining COVID cases and other positive metrics in their decision to allow masks to come off in schools later this month.

"Cases are declining to near pre-surge levels everywhere, and this is the right time to move face masking guidance from requirement to recommendation in most settings."

Alameda County Dr. Nicholas Moss, Alameda County Health Officer said in a statement. "COVID will be with us perhaps forever, and masks are tools we can depend on for protection. New surges that threaten public health and the lives of vulnerable residents may call for quick and assertive action and a new requirement to mask."