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South Bay COVID mask mandate returns as the school year ends

Tonight, the masks are back on in the South Bay Union School District. An uptick in COVID cases prompted the superintendent to bring back a mask mandate indoors and out. KPBS Education Reporter M.G. Perez has the story.

A COVID-19 mask mandate is back in the South Bay Union School District.

An uptick in cases prompted the district’s superintendent to reinstate Tuesday a requirement that all students and staff wear a mask, indoors and out. The mandate remains in effect until the end of the school year which is only about a week away.

The district has seen a significant jump in the number of COVID-19 cases and positive tests among its 6,000 students in a dozen of its schools. That includes students in preschool through the eighth grade.


Oscar Guerrero was wearing a mask Wednesday when he picked up his younger brother from Nicoloff Elementary in San Ysidro.

“I feel more safe to not get the virus and it’s better for the kids so they don’t get sick and lose more days to learn,” he said.

According to the San Diego County Public Health Services Department’s online COVID-19 dashboard, the number of COVID-19 cases and positive tests in the district’s three zip code neighborhoods now puts it in the county’s high transmission — red tier.

South Bay Union Superintendent Jose Espinoza did not give media interviews, but he did provide KPBS with a written statement that reads:

South Bay Union School District places the health and safety of our students, staff, and community as our highest priority. We have been monitoring the case rates within our district for several months and used this information to move from required masking to optional masking in early April when case rates were in the moderate transmission tier.

This same information was used to inform our recent decision to return to required masking now that we are back in the high transmission tier.

We know that there are two sides to this debate and that people feel very strongly about their position.

As a school district, it is not our role to participate in this debate. Our goal was, and remains, to be transparent in our decision-making process and to use data provided by public health agencies to make all decisions.

We will continue to use the data provided by the California Department of Public Health, San Diego County Health and Human Services, the California Department of Education, and the San Diego County Office of Education, as well as our own internal case rates to make further decisions regarding masking and other mitigation strategies.

Beatrice Vargas wore a mask when she picked up her niece from Nicoloff Elementary Wednesday.


“You go to the gym and you don’t have to wear a mask," she said. "Or like on the bus sometimes I don’t wear it, but I see everybody with a mask so I put it on.”

The South Bay Union district is not alone in the uptick in COVID-19 cases. Almost 8,900 new cases were reported county-wide to the health department in the past week — an increase of 26% from the week before.

The county is expected to update those numbers again on Thursday.

The child care industry has long been in crisis, and COVID-19 only made things worse. Now affordable, quality care is even more challenging to find, and staff are not paid enough to stay in the field. This series spotlights people each struggling with their own childcare issues, and the providers struggling to get by.