Despite indications the state was on the verge of lifting its mask-wearing requirement in schools, the state’s Health and Human Services secretary said Monday the requirement will remain in place for now, pending a Feb. 28 reassessment of COVID-19 case rates and other pandemic metrics.

Dr. Mark Ghaly said a lifting of the mandate is inevitable, saying it is just “a question of when.” He expressed confidence that the mandate would be lifted after that Feb. 28 reassessment, barring another sudden spike in virus infection rates and hospitalizations.

Ghaly gave a lengthy presentation noting significant downward trends over the past month statewide in COVID case rates, hospitalizations and testing positivity rates. But he said as far as schools are concerned, the state is only “close to a point” where such a move can be made, so no immediate change will be made.

“Parents should not hear that we aren’t making a move,” Ghaly said, insisting the state is only “taking a little more time” to ensure pandemic metrics continue on a downward path.

He said he respects that many parents who have been calling for a lifting of the mandate will be upset by the decision, but he insisted there are others who maintain uncertainty about whether lifting the requirement in schools is safe for students and staff.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has expressed a desire to ease up on the school masking mandate, although he noted last week there has been some resistance from teachers’ unions who still have safety concerns.

Ghaly noted that even when the state lifts its requirement for masks in schools, individual counties or school districts could still require them.

The state on Wednesday will lift its mask-wearing requirement for vaccinated people most in indoor public spaces, but some counties — most notably Los Angeles County — will continue to require face coverings indoors.

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