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SAN DIEGO – Masks are now optional indoors on San Diego Unified campuses, marking a stark shift for students and staff of the state’s second-largest district amid a more than two-year pandemic.

California’s mask mandate for schools and child care facilities officially ended in mid-March at the guidance of Gov. Gavin Newsom. San Diego Unified kept its rules in place about a month beyond the end of the state requirement, citing the county’s previous status in the CDC’s high-risk category in early March.

Upon announcing the shift, district leaders wrote that they believe “it is appropriate to update our safety measures at this time.”

District board member Richard Barrera said San Diego Unified will continue to closely monitor COVID-19 conditions and make changes to its mask policies if needed.

“We’ve been monitoring the case rates for the last few weeks and they look good,” Barrera said. “As of (Monday), indoor masking will be optional.”

The change comes more than two years after the first schools shut down due to the pandemic.

Under the district’s new policy, masks are now strongly recommended for all on campus, but as with most places in California beyond a select remaining few, they are not required to be worn.

Other pandemic mitigation efforts remain in place, however. They include air filtration, COVID-19 testing, distancing and handwashing, among others. Students returning to campus also were provided two at-home COVID test kits and were asked to test last Thursday and again Monday morning before coming back.

“We also wanted to take a couple of weeks and just make sure those case rates remained low and we’re just coming out of spring break,” Barrera said.

Barrera said the district isn’t projecting a spike in infections coming out of spring break, but they’re following the numbers in San Diego County. The county reported 246 new COVID-19 infections and seven additional virus-related deaths Friday, increasing cumulative totals to 750,991 cases and 5,185 deaths. The number of COVID-positive patients in San Diego County hospitals has increased by two to 132, according to the latest state data.

The number of those patients in intensive care Saturday also increased by two to 33. Available ICU beds decreased by 15 to 227.

“(If) we start to come back into the higher-risk categories under the CDC, we will require our students to put the masks back on,” Barrera said.

Also going optional with masks on Monday was the Sweetwater Union High School District and the Chula Vista Elementary School District. Most other districts in the area already have dropped the requirement. The South Bay Union School District in Imperial Beach is waiting a few more weeks until making a ruling on its mask requirement, the district’s website shows.

In California, masks continue to be required on public transit, health care settings, emergency shelters, jails and prisons, homeless shelters and long-term care facilities. In indoor settings as well as K-12 schools and childcare facilities, they are strongly recommended.

Still need your COVID-19 vaccine? Click or tap here to see a list of vaccination sites in San Diego County.

FOX 5’s Jacqueline Sarkissian and City News Service contributed to this report.