Vaccinated teachers and students do not need to wear masks inside school buildings, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday in relaxing its COVID-19 guidelines.
The changes come amid a nationwide vaccination campaign in which children as young as 12 are eligible to be vaccinated, as well as a general decline in hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.
“We are at a new stage in the pandemic which we are all passionate about,” he added. and so it’s time to update the guidelines, said Erin Sauber-Schatz, who heads the CDC task force that prepares recommendations designed to protect Americans from COVID-19.
The country’s main public health agency is not advising schools to require vaccines for teachers and children eligible for the vaccine. And it doesn’t offer advice on how teachers can find out which students are vaccinated or how parents will know which teachers are vaccinated.
This is likely to create tough school environments, said Elizabeth Stuart, a professor of public health at John Hopkins University who has children in elementary and middle schools.
“It would be a very strange dynamic, socially, to have children wearing masks and others not. And follow that? Teachers shouldn’t need to know which children should wear masks ”, she said.
Another potential headache: Schools should continue to space children – and their desks – 3 feet apart in classrooms, according to the CDC. But the agency stressed that the spacing should not be an obstacle to the return of children to school. And he said distancing is not required among fully vaccinated students or staff.
All of this can be difficult to implement, and that’s why the CDC advises schools to make the most sensible decisions, Sauber-Schatz said.
The biggest questions will arise in colleges where some students are eligible for injections and others are not. If sorting out vaccinated and unvaccinated students proves too tedious, administrators might choose to simply keep a masking policy in place for everyone.
“The guide is really written to allow flexibility at the local level”, Sauber-Schatz said.
State mandates further complicate the problem. Several states, including California and Virginia, have policies requiring all students to wear masks in school, regardless of vaccination. But governors and lawmakers in some other states, including Arizona, Iowa and Texas, have banned local school officials from requiring masks.
Widespread mask wear is expected to continue this fall in some of the country’s largest school districts, but not in others. In Detroit Public Schools, everyone will be required to wear a mask unless everyone in the class has been vaccinated. Philadelphia planned to require masks, but the school district was reviewing the policy based on the new CDC guidelines. Houston won’t need masks at all because of Texas law.
What about requiring COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of school attendance? This is done routinely across the country to prevent the spread of measles and other illnesses.
The CDC has praised the demands on several occasions, but the agency did not recommend the move on Friday because it is seen as a national and local policy decision, CDC officials said.
At the start of the pandemic, health officials feared schools could become cauldrons of coronaviruses that trigger community epidemics. But studies have shown that schools often see less transmission than the surrounding community when certain preventive measures are followed.
The new directive is the latest overhaul of advice the CDC started giving to schools last year. In March, the CDC stopped recommending that children and their desks be 6 feet apart, reducing the distance to 3 feet, and dropped its call for the use of plastic shields.
The new orientation of the schools says:
–No one in schools needs to wear masks at recess or in most other outdoor situations. However, unvaccinated people are advised to wear masks if they are in a crowd for an extended period of time, such as in the stands of a football game.
– Ventilation and hand washing remain important. Students and staff should also stay home when sick.
– Testing remains an important way to prevent epidemics. But the CDC also says people who are fully vaccinated do not need to participate in such a screening.
– Separating students into smaller groups, or cohorts, continues to be a good way to help reduce the spread of the virus. But the CDC has advised against grouping vaccinated and unvaccinated children into separate groups, saying schools should not stigmatize any group or perpetuate academic, racial or other monitoring.
Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, called the CDC’s new direction “An important roadmap to reducing the risk of COVID-19 in schools. “
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten hailed the directions as “Based on both science and common sense. “
“Our ultimate goal remains: to bring students, teachers and staff back to school buildings full time and make sure they are safe while doing so” she said in a statement, adding that dozens of union affiliates are organizing vaccination clinics.
US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has pledged to work with schools to help get children back into classrooms.
“We know that face-to-face learning provides all students with vital opportunities to develop healthy and rewarding relationships with educators and peers, and that students receive essential support in school for their social well-being and emotional, mental health and academic success ” he said in a statement.