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Bay Area students weigh in on what it will be like to be mask-free in class

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Today is the first time many kids in California won't have to wear their mask in class. The state dropped the indoor mandate for schools. Lesley McClurg from member station KQED checked in with some Bay Area students to hear how they're feeling about the change.

LESLEY MCCLURG, BYLINE: At their kitchen table, while nibbling on sugary toast, Amanda Stupi (ph) shared the big news with her 7-year-old daughter, Grace (ph), in the run up to this morning.

AMANDA STUPI: So starting on Monday, masks are going to be optional at your school.

GRACE: What does that mean?

STUPI: It means the school highly recommends that everybody wears a mask. But it's not mandatory. You don't have to. How do you feel about that?

GRACE: Excited because we can finally see everybody's personality.

STUPI: Are you worried about catching COVID at all?

GRACE: I know I'm going to be safe because we have to stay an arm distance away from each other while eating.

MCCLURG: Grace isn't totally right there. There's still a risk if she's sitting near someone who's infected. Though, social distancing protocols do help. That's why Garrett Glass (ph) feels safe ditching his mask. He's a fifth grader in the North Bay.

GARRETT GLASS: We sit, like, three feet apart, I'm pretty sure. So I'm not that worried about getting it in class.

MCCLURG: Even though one of his classmates tested positive just last week, it didn't really phase him.

GLASS: I'm pretty sure everybody in our class is fully vaccinated. So I wouldn't be that scared.

MCCLURG: Yet, some kids might not get why it's suddenly safe to show their face after being told over and over that face coverings save lives.

JENNY LOUIE: It's natural for them to feel some anxiety.

MCCLURG: Jenny Louie is a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, a nonprofit specializing in kids mental health. She recommends parents help transition kids by asking them lots of questions.

LOUIE: Just say, how do you feel? What do you think?

MCCLURG: And then it's important to validate whatever the child says.

LOUIE: Like, oh, yeah. That makes sense that you're nervous. I'm a little nervous, too. We've been doing it this way for so long.

MCCLURG: She says kids need a thorough explanation of why the situation is safer now. Like, case rates have dropped substantially and vaccines are available. These are the details that help kids get it.

LOUIE: And that can really help ease their anxiety. Oh, the grown-ups have thought about this.

MCCLURG: And, Louie says, it's probably wise to warn kids that they might have to put their masks back on if another variant emerges and cases surge.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLURG: Some kids at a playground in Oakland sounded pretty conflicted about the whole thing. Ten-year-old Kenley Gupta (ph) doesn't like her mask.

KENLEY GUPTA: Most of the time, it's really uncomfortable. And it keeps sliding down my nose. And it's just a burden hanging over me.

MCCLURG: But she's not quite ready to toss her pink tie-dyed mask.

GUPTA: The virus is simmering down. But I think it's just best to be safe still.

MCCLURG: She says there's going to be lots of kids in each class at her school.

GUPTA: With no masks on. And people are going to be sneezing and coughing. And there's going to be a lot of germs.

MCCLURG: She's got a point. California is still averaging about 4,000 positive cases a day, which is why 11-year-old Tabitha Kadel (ph) also isn't ready to toss her mask.

TABITHA KADEL: I'm a little scared about getting COVID.

MCCLURG: Tabitha is still doubling down by wearing both a cloth and a surgical mask to her school in the East Bay. There's good data showing masks do protect kids. Though, it depends on whether the mask fits properly, the type of mask and the variant you're dealing with. There's also some other pros and cons.

KADEL: I appreciate that it hides my zits. But it's hard to breathe when I'm running in PE. And it is difficult to see what people look like.

MCCLURG: Tabitha is going to wait a week or two before showing her full face.

For NPR news, I'm Lesley McClurg in Oakland.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROCKET MINER'S "MY FRIEND COMA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.