HOUSTON - The Houston Independent School District will relax its mask mandate on March 1, and masks will become optional in schools, facilities and school buses, district officials say.
The district's previous COVID-19 protocol required students, employees, visitors, and vendors to wear a mask while in district schools and facilities.
The district says the relaxing of the mask mandate was done in alignment with CDC guidelines and consultation with local health partners.
Those who need an extra layer of protection or have symptoms of a communicable disease are still encouraged to wear a mask, Houston ISD says.
Houston ISD released this statement about the change to their mask mandate:
"In alignment with CDC guidelines and consulting with local health partners, effective March 1st, HISD is relaxing its mask mandate. Masks within HISD schools, facilities, and school buses will become optional. Anyone that may need an additional layer of protection or are exhibiting symptoms of a communicable disease are highly encouraged to wear a mask regardless of vaccination status. Our families, students, and staff have shown incredible patience, resiliency and grace these past two years as we navigated the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus is still circulating in our communities, but we have the tools to keep ourselves and each other safe. As we move through the phases of our pandemic response, HISD remains committed to providing sustainable safe in-person learning and working environments by focusing on our COVID-19 mitigation framework and highly encouraging our communities to leverage COVID-19 testing and vaccination opportunities."
New CDC mask guidelines announced Friday
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlined a new set of measures for communities where COVID-19 is easing its grip, with less of a focus on positive test results and more on what’s happening at hospitals.
According to the new guidelines, most Americans live in places where healthy people, including students in schools, can safely take a break from wearing masks.
The new system greatly changes the look of the CDC’s risk map and puts more than 70% of the U.S. population in counties where the coronavirus is posing a low or medium threat to hospitals. Those are the people who can stop wearing masks, the agency said.
The agency is still advising people, including schoolchildren, to wear masks where the risk of COVID-19 is high.
According to the CDC’s COVID-19 Community Level tracker, Harris County, where hundreds of HISD schools are located, is in the "medium" category.
At this level, the CDC recommends masking for those who are immunocompromised or at high risk for severe illness. Those who live with or have social contact with someone at high risk for severe illness should consider getting tested before getting together and wearing a mask when indoors with them, according to the guidelines.
Harris County lowers COVID-19 threat level
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced the county's COVID-19 risk was lowered to Level 2, 'Orange.'
On Thursday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced the COVID-19 threat level was lowered to Level 2: Orange.
The county had been at Level 1: Red, the highest level, since January amid the "explosive growth" of Omicron cases.
"The omicron wave hit Harris County very, very hard," said Judge Hidalgo in a statement. "In fact, only now have our hospitalization rates dropped to levels that don’t immediately threaten the capacity of our healthcare system."
According to the county, being at Level 2 signifies a significant and uncontrolled level of COVID-19 in Harris County, meaning that there is ongoing transmission of the virus.
Judge Hidalgo added that while the decrease in numbers is good, there could still be another wave in the future.
"My hope is that the on-demand availability of vaccines and treatments will help us to avoid another dangerous spike. I continue to urge folks to get vaccinated. Doing so will allow us to deal with COVID-19 as a manageable risk rather than an emergency that unnecessarily threatens lives and the capacity of our entire healthcare system."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.