Outside: Students at Will Roger’s were able to enjoy outdoor activities, like Farm Class without a mask yesterday. Matthew Hall.

Santa Monica school kids are no longer obliged to wear face masks outdoors as of Wednesday, Feb. 16.

The LA County Department of Public Health (DPH) reported the County would “enter into a post-surge period” on Wednesday. Although the date aligned with the lifting of statewide mask mandates, LA County’s rule change was due to a drop-off in daily COVID-19 hospitalizations; the seven-day average daily COVID-19 hospitalizations had fallen below 2,500 as of Wednesday, County Health reported.

“A modified LA County Health Officer Order will be posted today [Tuesday, Feb. 15] and effective at 12:01 am on 2/16/2022 recommending, but no longer requiring, outdoor masking at outdoor mega events and outdoor spaces at TK-12 schools and childcare sites,” a DPH news release stated.

Masks would still be required indoors across the County.

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) leadership confirmed masks would become optional as of Wednesday morning. SMMUSD Superintendent Ben Drati sent out a message to parents describing changes about five hours after the County announcement.

“The SMMUSD School Board has directed us to lift the requirement effective immediately, with some exceptions,” Drati wrote. “Staff and students may voluntarily continue to wear masks outdoors, if they so desire. Masks indoors are required.”

Exceptions would remain for those “on quarantine while on campus,” Drati wrote, meaning any student or staff member who is identified as having been exposed to a positive case, who is asymptomatic. District spokesperson Gail Pinsker emphasized that students and staff members who are symptomatic, even if they have not received a positive test result, should also stay home “until COVID-19 is ruled out through a test.”

“This is a big milestone of this pandemic and we can take a moment to rejoice in seeing the smiling faces of our students and staff outside again, but must continue to remain vigilant in protecting against new surges,” Drati wrote in his Tuesday evening message.

The change was met with enthusiasm by some parents and trepidation by others; for instance, Will Rogers Learning Community Principal Ryan Bourke said he had received one angry phone call from a parent who thought students should be told to keep wearing masks outside.

On Wednesday, many students at Will Rogers were taking advantage of the new protocols around lunchtime, with fewer than half of students seen playing on the jungle gym with masks on. Kids there were still following County COVID-19 rules and remaining masked while indoors and transitioning between classrooms.

In a districtwide survey of parents in the fall, two-thirds of respondents said they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the District’s outdoor masking policies. In general, Santa Monica parents were much more supportive of the outdoor masking requirement than Malibu parents when surveyed at the time.

In addition to the lifting of outdoor mask mandates, DPH announced on Tuesday that residents infected with the coronavirus would have the option to communicate with the County via text message or online rather than over the phone.

“Residents who test positive will receive an initial text message from DPH with easy-to-follow instructions for isolation and links for additional information, including a link requesting they complete an online case interview survey,” the DPH information stated. “Residents can complete the survey at their own pace over the next 8 days.” The current call center system will also be available by calling (833) 540-0473.