School officials said Thursday that they were "strengthening" San Diego Unified's masking guidelines "in light of the continued presence of the COVID-19 virus in our community."
The move was announced via an email sent out shortly after 12:30. In the note, authorities reminded readers that anybody on school campuses has to wear masks indoors already, then went on to modify the policy for outdoors, instructing students and staffers to wear masks at all times while outside on campus as well, unless they are eating.
But, there are exceptions.
"We highly encourage students to take mask breaks outdoors," the email states. "During these breaks, students should maintain 6 feet distance from each other. Wearing masks outdoors lessens the likelihood of student exposure and allows more students to qualify for a modified quarantine."
Authorities also modified the guideline for "certain situations," specifically for PE, athletics and in performing arts programs.
The news was not welcomed in all quarters. The national advocacy group Let Them Breathe, a self-described group of parents "who are concerned about the detrimental effects of masks on their children’s mental, physical, emotional, and social health" released the following statement shortly before 5 p.m. on Thursday.
"SDUSD’s new policy to require students to wear masks outdoors is yet another unscientific decision which ignores the statistically non-existent risk of transmission outdoors. At the core of this issue is still a fundamental misunderstanding that the risk of COVID to children is remarkably low, far less than their risk from seasonal flu. There is no reason for SDUSD or any schools to punish students with ineffective cloth or surgical masks or prevent healthy, asymptomatic children from getting an education due to over-restrictive quarantine protocols that go beyond CDPH guidance. School districts’ over-restrictive quarantine policies need to be revised instead of stating that wearing masks outdoors will mitigate these quarantine issues."
Classes at San Diego Unified begin for the 2021-22 school year on Monday, Aug. 30.
The move by San Diego Unified comes in the wake of a pair of local medical organizations asking for an indoor mask mandate, which is being recommended by many employers and organizations but has not been mandated by local or state authorities.
In a joint letter, the San Diego County Medical Society and the Hospital Association of San Diego and Imperial Counties wrote to County Health officer Dr. Wilma Wooten and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, requesting mask mandates return indoors regardless of vaccination status.
The groups are also calling for COVID-19 vaccination requirements for indoor dining, bars, gyms, and entertainment venues.
"A mask mandate and a vaccine mandate is the way to go we know that after evidence, after evidence that the vaccine will save lives there's no question about it and short of that the next best thing is to make sure you put a mask on," said Dr. Will Tseng. "Mandate a mask on especially indoors where the air circulates and you can pass on the virus very easily."