COVID-19 cases increase after lifting of mask in-school mandate


Elliot Smith

AHWS sophomore Nelly Vlahos studies during her tutorial period without a mask.

Governor Gavin Newson (D) lifted the indoor mask mandate for California K-12 schools on March 11 after declining COVID-19 cases. Starting Monday, March 14, the mask mandate inside classrooms was lifted at Tamalpais Union High School District (TUHSD), giving students the option to attend school with or without masks. While dropping the masks brings a new sense of normalcy, this sudden change also creates worry within the AWHS community about increased COVID-19 cases.

Gregg Tolliver, a Medical Doctor (Dual MD) and Master of Public Health (MPH), is currently working at the healthcare system MarinHealth in Greenbrae, California. He has been examining the recent COVID-19 cases and found that directly following the end of the mask mandate, cases were dropping in Marin. 

However, Marin County has seen a recent rise in the number of COVID-19 cases. Tolliver believes that the recent increase is due to the lack of indoor mask-wearing and social distancing. With the recent Omicron BA.2 variant, most cases are asymptomatic, resulting in less COVID-19 suspicion and lack of testing.

“It’s possible that Marin Public Health may need to reinstate [the] mask mandate, but not too likely in the next couple of weeks. However, mandatory frequent… testing might be a better way to control spread.  Every family should have a stockpile of a dozen tests, as [soon as] one member tests positive, other family members need [to take] many tests,” Tolliver said. 

Although he believes masking helped greatly during the early stages of the pandemic, Tolliver says the recent Omicron BA.2 variant is more easily transmitted. Because of this, masks help reduce risk, but less than with previous COVID-19 variants. Although Marin vaccination rates continue to rise and home testing kits are more readily available, there is a possibility of COVID-19 cases rising and masks becoming required once again.

Marin is experiencing a rise in cases, but Tolliver believes that cloth masks, which for the most part are worn incorrectly, are not effective and unnecessary in the classroom. 

I don’t think that poorly worn, cloth masks will make a significant impact on cases. With super safe, effective vaccines and high vaccine uptake in Marin, there is more downside… to [wearing] masks right now,” Tolliver said. 

Tolliver predicts that COVID-19, along with its variants, will appear seasonally in the future, which may result in masks being used as a precautionary measure.

AWHS sophomore Sevi Solari talks with a fellow student during her P.E. class. (Elliot Smith)

“…Coronaviruses spread best in cold, dry air, and are quite seasonal. I think that many of us science-minded citizens will be intermittently masking in the winter, especially around the holidays and on public transportation,” Tolliver said. “We want to protect our older and more vulnerable population, not just from death but from morbidity, such as long COVID. Masking should be no big deal when indicated, just like seat belt use.”

Though the mask mandate has been lifted, masks are still strongly recommended, and a handful of students still choose to wear them in the classroom. AWHS sophomore Calvin Arnold chose to wear his mask at least until April and is now choosing to not wear a mask indoors.  

“I have kept wearing my mask even though the mandate [was] lifted because my grandparents are coming to town and we [were] going to Hawaii over spring break as a family, so I don’t want to risk getting COVID-19,” Calvin said. 

 Jade Alberti, an AWHS sophomore, has also decided to continue wearing her mask, as she lives with a person at risk. She is unsure if she will stop wearing her mask during the remaining school year, but expects to drop the mask at the start of the 2022-2023 school year. 

“I live with someone at high risk [of COVID-19], so I wear [a mask] as a precaution… [but] I think it’s appropriate that it has been lifted- vax rate in Marin is really high, so giving people the choice on whether or not they want to wear it seems fair to me,” Jade said.

As school begins returning to a sense of normalcy after the lifting of the mask mandate, safety remains a significant issue for some AWHS students. It is unclear how the future will unfold, but with an increase in vaccination and test rates, students and medical officials are hopeful for continued COVID-19 recovery.