Editorial: It’s okay for LA Unified schools to make masks optional


Los Angeles County schools are testing hundreds of thousands of students for the coronavirus each week. It’s a great way to get a picture of infections in the community, as students and staff are routinely tested, not just when they’re showing symptoms. If the virus spread quickly and quietly with asymptomatic cases, this process would show it.

But it shows the opposite. The rate of pre-kindergarten through grade 12 in Los Angeles County, the tested positive was unsurprisingly high at over 14% in early January. At that time, it just made sense to maintain a mask requirement. Since then, infections have fallen sharply, and in the first week of March, the positivity rate among the county’s students was less than a third of 1%. LA Unified’s coronavirus rates are similarly low for teachers and students, a district spokesman said.

Add to this encouraging trend the relative mildness of the dominant Omicron strain, and it’s reasonable that the Los Angeles Unified School District is considering lifting its indoor mask mandate to conform with state policy and practice in most other school districts adapt by LA County.

The state mask mandate for schools was lifted Monday, and most counties followed suit. The topic is being discussed at LA Unified, which has so far maintained its mask mandate. Alberto Carvalho, the district’s new superintendent, appeared to support the repeal of the mandate when he tweeted on Tuesday: “Either we follow the science or we follow nothing. change is coming.”

It is simply not possible to hold on to mandates until the risk of COVID-19 is zero. The virus is unlikely to go away completely. Meanwhile, fully vaccinated individuals are highly protected from hospitalization and death. Should the situation worsen, it would be easy to demand masks again.

Of course, teachers should be involved in the discussion of mask policy changes. And you are; The district has agreed to negotiate changes to the mask requirement with teachers’ union United Teachers Los Angeles, and a new poll of its members found that of about 60% who responded, 58% want to keep the mandate. Teachers are among those who have had a particularly tough time during the pandemic, and schools do not want their safety to be compromised. But in-person tuition certainly worked through even the worst of Omicron’s days in late December and early January, and at this point all LA Unified teachers are either vaccinated or have a valid excuse for not being.

The risk of infection for teachers is further reduced as almost 90% of LAUSD students aged 12 and over are also vaccinated. Fewer elementary school students are vaccinated, but a new one learn, not yet peer-reviewed, found that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was much less effective in this age group than in older children and adults, so it’s unclear how much safety would be improved by higher vaccination numbers. It is the only vaccine for younger children that has been approved so far.

Still, the district must remain sensitive to the fears of a beleaguered workforce and community regarding COVID-19 policies. If the district lifts the mandate, it should continue to encourage the use of masks, as the state and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are doing, and provide some additional safety measures, e.g. B. Allowing teachers who have particular health concerns — such as babies or other highly vulnerable family members at home — to require masks in their own classrooms.

It’s a shame the county failed to set up a metrics system that would determine what levels of infection or other conditions would automatically trigger or end mask requirements. But in consultation with the teachers’ union, she could do that now.

Ultimately, the district must base its decision on data and science that balances the needs of teachers, staff, students, parents, and the wider community. Editorial: It’s okay for LA Unified schools to make masks optional

Caroline Bleakley

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