San Diego Unified won’t require masks districtwide for now, including at Pacific Beach campuses

Students head to class Monday morning at Perkins K-8 on their first day of school in April 2021.
(Jarrod Valliere / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The district might require them at individual schools, and it might bring back a districtwide mandate depending on COVID-19 metrics, absences and what scientists say


San Diego Unified will not require masks districtwide when the school year starts on Aug. 29, signaling a retreat from COVID-19 rules the district established a month ago.

The school system will no longer require masks across all schools whenever the county has high community levels of COVID-19 activity, as defined by federal guidelines. San Diego Unified had established that rule in mid-July, when the county’s COVID-19 levels were on the rise.

The COVID surge has since calmed down, as San Diego County exited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s highest risk level on Thursday.

Now instead of a districtwide mandate, masks may be required at individual San Diego Unified schools if a school gets at least three COVID outbreaks within a 14-day period, and if more than 5 percent of the school’s students and staff are infected at that time, the district said. If conditions at a school trigger a mandate, masks will be required there for at least 14 days.

However, there is still a possibility of a districtwide mask mandate in the future.

“In the event that we need to consider districtwide masking, we will examine multiple measures that are reflective of school-based transmission, such as number of schools meeting individual site masking metrics, absences, and peer-reviewed studies,” the district said in an email to families.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, San Diego Unified has had some of the region’s strictest COVID mitigation measures. It was one of the last districts to reopen schools, one of the last districts to make masks voluntary after the statewide mandate was lifted and one of the only districts to institute a student COVID vaccine mandate.

Now the district is easing its mitigation measures as the general public’s concern with COVID has diminished. Los Angeles Unified, whose COVID strategies San Diego Unified has closely watched, also stepped back from its mitigation measures two weeks ago.

“We know that COVID-19 is here to stay. We have entered into a new phase of this virus,” San Diego Unified told families on Monday.

In May, San Diego Unified postponed its student COVID vaccine mandate to at least July 2023 amid delays in full federal approval of the vaccine for youth and growing evidence that existing vaccines are less effective against newer coronavirus variants.

The district still “strongly recommends” that students and staff continue to wear masks, specifically surgical masks or masks with higher filtering quality such as KN95s, KF94s and N95s.

San Diego Unified will also continue to offer voluntary, weekly COVID testing and vaccines at school sites.