Marin schools pull back mask regulations to ‘recommended’ outdoors

Sylvan Gordon-Wagen

On Aug. 18, Juliana Makin, a parent at Novato charter school, filed a temporary restraining order against the mask mandates for students outdoors at school. The official complaint stated that students should be able to enjoy their free time at school how they normally would. That same night, Marin County changed its facial covering guidance protocols for schools. On Monday, Aug. 23, Redwood adopted the new facial covering guidance protocol issued by Marin County officials, which changed mask regulation from being required to recommended outdoors. Marin’s COVID-19 cases haven’t reached more than 70 cases per day since early January.

While this is a step in the direction of returning to normalcy in education, it opens up the possibility of transmission of more germs in crowded outdoor areas.

Lining up outdoors, students arrive for complimentary lunch at the CEA unmasked.

There are multiple high traffic areas on campus; such as the line to enter the CEA, the walkways near the parking lots and the entrances to the main building that get just as congested as the halls indoors. These are places in which students are at risk of transmission but are able to use masks at their personal discretion. Mayalani Callaghan, a nurse at Redwood, supports lifting the mandate outdoors as long as students and teachers continue to maintain safe behaviors on campus.

“Even though vaccines are out and data shows cases are dropping, I think we should keep our guard up and ease our way back into normal by not jumping into it,” said Callaghan.

According to the New York Times, Marin’s COVID-19 cases are slowly climbing with the start of the school year. Callaghan believes that transmission is less likely outdoors but should take extra precautions if necessary.

“When outdoors, transmission is lower but masks are an extra layer of protection,” Callaghan said. “It is better to keep your mask off when you are not near anyone and outdoors, whether or not you are vaccinated,” Callaghan said.

Enjoying the fresh air, senior Greg Soloviev spends his lunch at the Town Center unmasked outside.

Greg Soloviev, a senior and track and field athlete, has spent nearly two years experiencing the full spectrum of COVID-19 protocols for practices during the pandemic. Soloviev appreciates the mandate change and looks forward to running without a mask.

“[Masks] were just unnecessary to wear outside like that,” Soloviev said. “It was very annoying and uncomfortable, even when it was just over my chin.”

Even when students could practice track and field in person, there was a barrier preventing them from enjoying their sport comfortably. As seen in data from the National Library of Medicine, it is nearly 19 times less likely that one transmits COVID-19 in outdoor settings than indoors. Soloviev feels the masks were marginal outdoors in these scenarios.  

“I’ve never felt unsafe running without a mask or [being] outdoors without a mask at track,” Soloviev said. “It is a step in the right direction to have the mandate pulled.”

Additionally, some students feel that without a mask, they have fewer obstacles to work around within social interaction. Matteo Cingolani, a senior at San Andreas High School that recently transferred

Fluttering in the wind, the U.S. and California State flags stand out front of San Andreas High School.

 from Redwood, explained how many students who change schools often struggle with socializing at the start of the year, even if the new school is just a couple hundred feet away.

“I knew some people when I started but not a lot. Socializing is much easier when you don’t have a mask on,” said Cingolani. “Sometimes you see someone for the first time without a mask and you thought they looked totally different.” 

Passing the time, Matteo Cingolani and his classmates wait outside before class begins.

San Andreas offers activities during advisory periods including gardening and other outdoor activities. Cingolani and his classmates can now engage in these face to face without a mask, partly attributed to nearly 90 percent of Marin residents age 12 and over being fully vaccinated, according to Marin Health and Human Services. Although some are worried about this new field of contact at school, others like Cingolani are embracing it.

“I don’t really mind at all. Even without [my mask] I feel safe,” said Cingolani. “In advisory groups there are anywhere between ten to fifteen kids. At lunch the whole school is outside together and I’m okay with that.”

So far, the community has not voiced any inherent concerns about the mandate being lifted, but should remember that erring on the side of caution is always ideal. As of now, students still have another year of high school classes with intensive efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Sadly, there are no current guarantees that the pandemic is over since there is a lack of information on how the virus and its variants could evolve.

“Masks rolling back probably won’t be until next year… Marin as a whole is very cautious like that,” said Callaghan.