Nicklaus Lindroth, 18, walks into Santa Cruz High School on Friday, March 11, 2022, in Santa Cruz.
Senior Nicklaus Lindroth walks into Santa Cruz High School on Friday.
(Hillary Ojeda / Lookout Santa Cruz)
K-12 Education

How do Santa Cruz kids and parents feel about the end of mask mandates?

Mask mandates are set to end in schools after Friday, and Santa Cruz parents and kids have mixed feelings about the return to normalcy following two years of pandemic-induced restrictions. Kids are ready to see each others’ faces, but remain worried about catching COVID-19. Lookout talked to students at Santa Cruz High and Gault Elementary schools.

On Friday morning, Santa Cruz County students entered schools wearing masks for what might be the last time.

Almost two years after masking became required by the state amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the mandate for schools is set to end today and students and parents have mixed feelings.

“I feel like it’s a little too early for me,” said Motoko Nakazawa-Hewitt, who has sons at DeLaveaga Elementary School and Branciforte Middle School. “Because I still get emails from the school saying that one of my kids was a close contact with a positive case.”

COVID-19 case rates have dropped to 1.7% in Santa Cruz County in the past seven days, per county data, while school districts are reporting a 14-day positivity rate of 1.6%.

Almost 74% of county residents are fully vaccinated, including more than 28,000 youth aged 5 to 19. About 40,000 students are enrolled in Santa Cruz County schools.

California is joining other states, including Oregon and Washington, to shift from requiring masks in schools to highly recommending them. Only a third of U.S. states still require masks in schools. In late February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shifted its guidelines to say that 70% of Americans don’t need to mask, leading more states and local officials to eliminate mask requirements.

County Superintendent of Schools Faris Sabbah said all districts in the county will continue to strongly recommend mask-wearing indoors, and officials will diligently monitor COVID data.

Nakazawa-Hewitt hasn’t yet talked to her boys, ages 10 and 13, about not wearing masks to school next week. She says her younger son, Oliver, can’t wait for the mandate to end as he’s excited to not wear the mask all day. She is not sure what her older son thinks, but for herself, she wishes the restrictions would stay in place longer.

Nakazawa-Hewitt’s family, like others, will navigate this new change as they have for the past two years: doing the best they can for the safety of their families.

A total of 61% of California parents with school-age children approve of school mask mandates, according to a UC Berkeley poll conducted early last month among almost 9,000 registered voters.

Here’s what five students told Lookout on Friday morning about the end of the mask mandate.

Santa Cruz High School

Skye McNeal, 16, sophomore

Skye McNeal, 16, stands outside Santa Cruz High School on Friday.
(Hillary Ojeda / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“I think I’m probably still going to wear my mask most of the time indoors. I’ll probably take it off outdoors, but I don’t know. I feel more secure wearing it. It’s kind of surprising they would lift it. We got to move on somehow. ... I feel like some of my friends will not wear them but I feel like a lot of people might still wear them because we’re so used to it by now that it would be kind of weird to walk around without one. I will still carry them with me in case I want to wear one.”

Madison Hagan-Parra, 16, sophomore

Madison Hagan-Parra, 16, stands outside Santa Cruz High on Friday.
(Hillary Ojeda/Lookout Santa Cruz)

“I don’t really mind, I’m still going to wear mine. I guess I feel it’s kind of weird because some places still require a mask, and at school, there’s so many people here.”

Nicklaus Lindroth, 18, senior

Nicklaus Lindroth, 18, walks into Santa Cruz High on Friday.
(Hillary Ojeda/Lookout Santa Cruz)

“It’s kind of freeing. It’s nice to go back to what it was before. We’ve just been here for two years so it’s nice to be free again.”

Gault Elementary School

Adeline McLaughlin, 6, kindergarten

Adeline McLaughlin, 6, stands outside Gault Elementary on Friday.
(Hillary Ojeda / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“I like it,” McLaughlin said about not having to wear a mask. She added that it’s hard to wear a mask but she’ll sometimes wear one.

Aria Davis, 6, kindergarten

Aria Davis, 6, stands outside Gault Elementary on Friday.
(Hillary Ojeda / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“I’m really excited,” Davis said the end of the mask mandate. She’ll also still wear a mask sometimes, she added.