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California parent groups sue Gavin Newsom over COVID mask mandate for schools

Sacramento Bee logo Sacramento Bee 7/23/2021 Andrew Sheeler, The Sacramento Bee

Jul. 23—Two parent advocacy organizations announced Thursday afternoon that they are suing California Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state's top health officials over the statewide mandate that children wear masks to school regardless of their vaccination status.

The lawsuit, filed by Let Them Breathe and Reopen California Schools in San Diego County Superior Court, names Newsom, Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly, Public Health Director Tomás Aragón of the Department of Public Health, and Dr. Naomi Bardach of Safe Schools for All as defendants.

"It's clear that (the health the department) has chosen to ignore the overwhelming evidence that show children are at a very low risk from being infected with COVID-19, transmitting it to others, or becoming seriously ill from COVID-19," Reopen California Schools founder Jonathan Zachreson of Roseville said in a statement. "A return to a normal school year is crucial to the mental and physical health recovery for students across California who have endured months of isolation and a majority of who spent last school year entirely in distance learning."

The Department of Public Health earlier this month issued guidance requiring that K-12 California schools mandate mask wearing for students.

That was a contrast to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which on July 9 issued guidance saying vaccinated students and teachers could remain unmasked during in-person learning.

The parents' lawsuit calls the state mandate arbitrary, not based on scientific evidence and harmful to students.

"CDPH states that despite CDC recommendations, they will require masks for all students in order to treat them the same," Let Them Breathe founder Sharon McKeeman said in a statement. "Of course it's true that all children deserve equity and should not be singled out based on vaccination status. However, this should be accomplished by allowing all children to unmask and share their smiles."

The lawsuit comes as the state continues to grapple with the spread of the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus, which has been shown to be more contagious. The delta variant makes up 83% of analyzed cases in the United States, while COVID-19 hospitalizations are up 32% and deaths are up 19%.

Los Angeles County has reinstated an indoor mask mandate as a result. Other counties — including Monterey, Napa, San Benito, Sacramento, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Yolo and Ventura — are asking everyone, including those who are fully vaccinated, to wear masks when inside public places such as grocery stores or movie theaters.

The World Health Organization recommends that people wear masks whenever possible in order to cut down the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant. The American Academy of Pediatrics also has recommended masks in schools for the coming academic year.

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