Vaccinated teachers and students do not need to wear masks inside school buildings, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday, relaxing their COVID-19 guidelines.
The changes come amid a national vaccination campaign in which children up to 12 years old are eligible to receive shots, as well as a general decline in hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.
“We are in a new time of the pandemic that makes us very excited,” so it’s time to update the guidelines, said Erin Sauber-Schatz, who heads the CDC working group that is preparing designed recommendations. to protect Americans from COVID-19.
The nation’s top public health agency does not advise schools that require shots for teachers and children eligible for the vaccine. And it doesn’t offer guidance on how teachers can know which students are vaccinated or how parents will know which teachers are vaccinated.
This is likely to be a difficult school environment, said Elizabeth Stuart, a public health professor at Johns Hopkins University who has children in elementary school and middle schools.
“It would be a very strange dynamic, socially, for some children to carry on masks and others not. And the follow-up? Teachers shouldn’t care what kids should have masks on, ”he said.
Another potential headache: Schools should continue to space children and their desks 3 feet away from classrooms, according to the CDC. But the agency stressed that spacing should not be an obstacle to returning children to schools. And he said there is no need to distance himself from fully vaccinated students or staff.
All of this can be difficult to implement, which is why CDC advises schools to make decisions that make more sense, Sauber-Schatz said.
The most important questions will be in middle schools, where some students may choose to shoot and others may not. If classifying vaccinated and unvaccinated students is too heavy, administrators could choose to keep a masking policy in place for everyone.
“The guide is really written to allow flexibility at the local level,” Sauber-Schatz said.
In fact, in some of the nation’s largest school districts, widespread protection is expected to continue this fall. In Detroit public schools, everyone will be required to wear a mask unless everyone in the classroom has been vaccinated. Philadelphia will require all students and public school staff to wear masks inside buildings, even if they have been vaccinated. But masks will not be mandatory in Houston schools.
What about requiring vaccination against COVID-19 as a condition of school attendance? This is usually done across the country to prevent the spread of measles and other diseases.
The CDC has repeatedly praised those requirements, but the agency on Friday did not recommend the move because it is considered a state and local policy decision, CDC officials said.
At the start of the pandemic, health officials were concerned that schools could become coronavirus boilers that would cause community outbreaks. But studies have shown that schools often see less transmission than the surrounding community when certain prevention measures are followed.
The new guidance is the latest revision of the advice the CDC began making in schools last year.
In March, the CDC stopped recommending that children and their desks be spaced 6 feet apart, reducing the distance to 3 feet, and withdrew its call for the use of plastic shields.
In May, the agency said Americans in general should not be so cautious about masks and outdoor distancing, and that fully vaccinated people do not need masks in most situations. This change was incorporated into the updated guide for summer camps and now for schools.
The new school orientation says:
—No one in schools should wear masks in the 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 match.
—Ventilation and hand washing continue to be important. Students and staff should also stay home when they are sick.
—Testing is still an important way to prevent outbreaks. But the CDC also says fully vaccinated people do not need to participate in this screening.
—Separating students into smaller groups, or cohorts, is still a good way to help reduce the spread of the virus. But the CDC advised against placing vaccinated and unvaccinated children in 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 new CDC guidance “an important roadmap for reducing the risk of COVID-19 in schools.”
He added: “Schools should consistently and rigorously use all recommended mitigation strategies, including masks in all environments where there are unvaccinated people, and ensure adequate ventilation, hand washing and cleaning.”
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona pledged to work with schools to help them return children to classrooms.
“We know that face-to-face learning offers all students vital opportunities to develop healthy and supportive relationships with educators and peers and that students receive essential supports in school for their social and emotional well-being, mental health and academic success, ”he said in a statement.
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