When can California school children take off their masks?

With most of the Bay Area announcing that vaccinated people can take off their masks indoors at work and at the gym next week, the next pressing question is: What about schools? 

At news conference on Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he wasn't ready to outline whether K-12 students could take off their masks beginning Feb. 16. But he said those details could be released as soon as Monday, but possibly later. 

"We'll be looking forward to putting out that plan in a matter of days," he said, adding that various stakeholders have been working on that issue for weeks.

He emphasized that there are 1,050 school districts in California and 10,500-plus schools. And coming to a decision about whether to allow students and teachers to unmask has not been easy. 

"Everybody has strong opinions," Newsom said, pointing to school boards, superintendents and county health officers, all of whom have valid and sometimes varying thoughts. 

One point of contention: The vaccination rates in California schools are substantially lower than they are for adults. 

For example, nearly 28% of 5- to 11-year- olds have been vaccinated statewide compared to California's average vaccination rate of 69.5%.

Many school districts have mandated vaccination for students, but others have not.

Oakland Unified school board directors, for example, said it would mandate that students be vaccinated by Feb. 1, but then changed their minds, saying students wouldn't have to be vaccinated until the start of next school year. 

Elsewhere in the country, states are grappling with similar issues. 

At least four states – Oregon, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware – plan to lift their indoor mask mandates in March, which will also include schools. 

But New York state said while it was lifting its indoor mask mandate on Thursday, the rules will remain in effect at homeless shelters, healthcare centers, state-run nursing homes, schools and childcare centers, and correctional facilities.