Gov. Gavin Newsom
Gov. Gavin Newsom at an earlier event. Courtesy of the governor’s office

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday he remains firmly behind the state mandate for students and teachers to wear masks as in-person instruction resumes across the state, despite multiple legal challenges, including one planned by the Orange County Board of Education.

Newsom, during a visit to a school in San Bernardino County, said the mask-mandate is critical to limiting spread of COVID-19 and keeping campuses open.

“We want to keep our kids safe,” he said. “We want them back in person for in-person instruction. We don’t want our kids back on Zoom school. We don’t want our kids back online with all the disparities that were self-evident in another classroom I was in when I asked them how their download speeds are. And the fact that a young child, in first-grade, is talking about download speeds suggests everything you need to know about the nature of the impact of this pandemic and how disproportionate it has been.”

Newsom said he expects school districts across the state to follow all safety recommendations, which he said “are in line with the CDC and aligned with the American Academy of Pediatrics, which I’m more interested in their counsel and advice than, respectfully, those that are seeking to move in the direction of Florida and other states.”

Florida is among the states leading the nation new COVID infections.

The Orange County Board of Education voted Tuesday night to sue over the mask mandate, challenging Newsom’s ongoing assertion of emergency rule-making powers due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“When necessary, the board will fight to protect the health, safety and welfare of our county’s kids at school. Unfortunately, with the governor’s most recent action to force Orange County’s children, even those as young as 5 and 6 years old, to endure an academic year covering their faces for hours on end, the time to fight has come again,” according to a statement posted on the board’s website.

The board asserted that school children in general “are neither at risk from COVID-19 nor likely to spread it,” a claim disputed by some local medical experts.

Dr. Dan Cooper of UC Irvine’s Institute for Immunology, who has been active in the university’s COVID-19 pandemic research, called the assertion “a falsehood.”

“We’ve learned that children are at risk of COVID. Yes, it’s a milder disease, but to say they’re not at risk is a crime. It’s a lie,” Cooper told City News Service, adding that kids are also able to spread the virus.

Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, also disputed the Board of Education’s claims.

“Kids spread COVID, there’s no doubt about it,” Noymer told CNS. “It’s true they are not as much at risk of symptomatic infection, but that’s not the point. The state mask mandate is sound, and I’d much rather see kids in school than at home for a second year.”

A pair of parent groups filed a similar lawsuit last week in San Diego County challenging the mask mandate for school children.

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