Use of masks at schools

San Diego Catholic Schools Director John Galvan shared the following points in response to questions the diocese has received about how it plans to continue to protect its school communities from COVID in the coming academic year:

  • The California Department of Public Health and the public health departments of San Diego and Imperial Counties have issued orders requiring that students and staff at public and private schools wear masks indoors to prevent the spread of COVID.
  • These orders are not “recommendations,” but are legal requirements under the California Health and Safety Code for any public or private school that provides in-person instruction.
  • This action is supported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics and a number of other public and private health experts. It reflects lessons learned during the 2020-21 school year and concerns about the highly contagious nature of the COVID Delta variant.
  • Last year, when most public and private schools were closed, Catholic schools were open for in-person instruction. Nevertheless, 186 cases of COVID were reported in San Diego Catholic schools. Because we adopted and carefully observed masking, social distancing, hand washing and other protocols to prevent or limit the spread of COVID, only 4 people became infected with COVID at a Catholic school. The other 182 were infected somewhere outside of school.
  • For the 2021-22 school year, social distancing requirements have been eased, but the use of masks and close attention to handwashing and hygiene remain in place. As a result, and for the first time in almost two years, public and private schools will be fully open and functioning on a near-normal basis.
  • Masks are not required outdoors, so when students are eating lunch, socializing or engaging in strenuous exercise, they are not required to wear masks.
  • Our school communities include people of all ages. While COVID transmission rates are lower for children under 12, more than 1,500 people work in Catholic schools in the diocese and many of our students live in multi-generational households that expose them to seniors over 65. Their health and safety matter, too.
  • As of this writing, it’s true that masks are recommended, but not required, at Mass, in grocery stores and in other public places in San Diego. So why are masks required at school? The main reason is the duration of exposure. Mass or a shopping trip may only last an hour. A typical student’s school day, however, may last four to six hours or more, resulting in a lot more exposure to other people and a much higher chance of transmitting or receiving the virus.