With only five minutes until first period begins, Palo Alto High School junior Noah Baldonado bikes as fast as he can, speeding onto campus. As Baldonado recalls, he enters his classroom with 30 seconds to spare as he heavily breathes hot air into his mask, a suffocating blanket on his face.

Sweaty and struggling to breathe through a thin piece of cloth, most students are familiar with the feeling of a long day of wearing a mask at school. Yet even as COVID-19 cases decrease and safety regulations become less stringent, many students still choose to wear masks throughout the whole day, even outdoors.

On Oct. 1, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that all eligible school children (over five years of age as of Oct. 29) will be required to receive the coronavirus vaccine to attend California public schools. Currently, Santa Clara County falls under the yellow COVID-19 tier, and staying in this tier for three weeks would remove the indoor mask mandate. As the county pushes to end this mandate, the question of the necessity of masks and their future in schools continues to arise.

 In addition to the new vaccine requirement, Paly requires masks to be worn indoors, but allows students to breathe freely outside, as per county guidelines.

“Decisions are made at district level, if not the county level … we’ve been pretty much following district and county rules most of the time, if not all the time,” Assistant Principal Jerry Berkson said.

According to Berkson, enforcing the indoor mask mandate has been generally smooth, with no major issues so far.

“We had a little incident in the beginning of the year, and that’s been it,” Berkson said. “I know if people forget once in a while, they’ll pull their masks down, but I don’t think that there’s a lot of malicious unmasked people out there.”


“I’m fully vaccinated and the rest of my family is, but … my little brother is too young to get a vaccine. Just because I have a vaccine doesn’t mean that I can’t also spread it, so if I take off my mask and I somehow get COVID, I can spread it to my brother.”

— Thomas Watkins, sophomore


With falling COVID-19 cases and increased vaccination, 68% of students feel safe taking off their mask outdoors, according to an anonymous opt-in survey by Verde Magazine of 250 Paly students conducted from November 1-3.

“If I’m surrounded by a lot of people … I wear my mask,” freshman Emma Thomas said. “But then if I’m out in the open, or like, just walking, then I pull it down.”

Nevertheless, some students still feel unsafe taking off their masks outdoors.

 “I’m fully vaccinated and the rest of my family is, but … my little brother is too young to get a vaccine,” sophomore Thomas Watkins said. “Just because I have a vaccine doesn’t mean that I can’t also spread it, so if I take off my mask and I somehow get COVID, I can spread it to my brother.”

Although the vaccine mandate will ensure that all students are vaccinated by next year, members of the Paly community see its effect on masks as minimal.

“This [vaccine] mandate for school doesn’t mean that your family members are going to have the vaccine,” freshman Pippa West said. “I feel like unvaccinated people can still be a problem, and then you’ll have to wear a mask because you could be a carrier.”

COVID-19 restrictions have developed over time, along with mask mandates, but with varied opinions on the need for masks and their effects, the mask’s future at Paly is unknown.

“I think masks have been a very helpful tool, especially when we didn’t have vaccines,” Paly Health Technician Jennifer Kleckner said. “I would like to see us being able to live more freely, but we don’t know what’s going to happen with the coronavirus and how it will evolve.”