Third grade students at Melrose Leadership Academy watch as Governor Gavin Newsom reads their letters at the in Oakland, Calif., campus on Sept. 15, 2021. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News)

Alameda County residents will know by the end of the week whether their children will need to wear masks in school, county health officer Dr. Nicholas Moss told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

If Alameda County wants to maintain its own mask mandate for schools, county health officials will need to issue a new local health order. On Monday, California officials announced the state’s mask mandate for schools will end March 11.

Public indoor masking requirements for unvaccinated people ended Monday. Moss said many community members want the school mask mandate to end.

“This is obviously a big change,” Moss said of the school masking requirement.

Masks are still required in health care facilities, long-term care facilities and jails and prisons.

Moss did not give any indication Tuesday of whether the county would impose its own mask mandate for school children. He did say it’s his responsibility to find less-restrictive protective health measures when possible.

In his past work as a doctor, he has treated HIV patients, and he was asked how he would talk to his patients about masking in general.

Moss said masks provide extra protection indoors even when others are unmasked. Masks are most helpful when COVID-19 is prevalent, but they can be worn any time. He said masks protect friends, families and neighbors who are vulnerable. KF94, KN95 and N95 masks provide the best protection for the wearer, he said. Masks are strongly recommended and may be required again in another surge of COVID-19.

Moss recommended residents get vaccinated because COVID-19 is not going away.

“There is no finish line,” he said, adding “we need to continue to stay vigilant” to waves and variants.

The case rate in Alameda County continues to fall, according to Moss. It was at 16 per 100,000 residents per day on Tuesday.

Currently, hospitals in the county are caring for 139 people with COVID-19 and 24 of those are in intensive care units. This winter, ICUs did not face the burden that they did last year, Moss said.

He said the impact on mortality has been similar or less than last year because many people are vaccinated and boosted.

Nearly 83 percent of the county population is fully vaccinated. Sixty-one percent of all fully vaccinated residents have received a booster shot. Boosters are highly recommended for people over 50 years old, Moss said.

The test positivity rate is 3.5 percent overall. In the most socio-economically disadvantaged communities of the county, the test positivity rate is 4.2 percent.

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.