County Supervisors vote to ask state for 'safe' phase-out of school mask mandate
The county Board of Supervisors Tuesday unanimously voted to ask the state Department of Public Health for a "safe and responsible path" toward phasing out pandemic-related mask requirements for school children from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher made the request, saying that since the vaccine has been approved for children, the county needs to continue to plan for next steps as safely as possible.
He added that the vaccine has "put us in a position to begin phasing out those restrictions."
"There's a lot of encouraging news," Fletcher said. "We made it through another surge without running out of health care capacity."
The county on Monday reported 1,313 new COVID-19 cases and 25 additional virus-related deaths, while Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state will lift its indoor mask-wearing requirement for vaccinated people on Feb. 15 — though it will remain in effect for unvaccinated people.
The state's move means the requirement will be lifted in San Diego County.
According to a state Department of Public Health release on Monday, officials said they were working with "education, public health and community leaders to update masking requirements at schools to adapt to changing conditions and ensure the safety of kids, teachers and staff."
Monday's data, along with 4,954 additional cases recorded over the weekend, increased the county's cumulative totals to 715,076 cases and 4,811 deaths.
On Tuesday, Dr. Wilma Wooten, county public health officer, said there was substantial uptick in cases in December and January. She added that, now, that surge peak has passed.
Eighty percent of county residents are fully vaccinated, while the partial rate is 91/8%, and 51.8% have received a booster vaccination, Wooten told supervisors.
Supervisor Jim Desmond, who has been critical of COVID-19 mandates, said removing one for masks is "long overdue."
Also, he said, "I think the (local) emergency is over" — a reference to the county's declaring one in February 2020. He added he would not vote in favor of continuing it.
Desmond requested that in place of a mandated vaccine, the county's COVID task force consider allowing those who cannot be vaccinated to show proof of antibodies and be tested weekly. Fletcher said he was happy to have the task force discuss it.
Earlier in the meeting, Fletcher said the COVID-19 emergency status was designed to be temporary.
"We're all aware of how difficult the past few years have been," he said.
Supervisors also voted 4-1, with Joel Anderson opposed, to continue meeting via teleconference.
"We need to get back to meeting in person," Anderson said.
Desmond said he was "kind of a fan of the hybrid meetings" and appreciated how such a format allows supervisors to reduce their gasoline costs.