(AP) — Vaccinated teachers
are exempt from wearing masks
inside school buildings, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
, which relaxed its COVID-19
guidelines on Friday.
The changes occur in the midst of a national vaccination
campaign in which children
as young as 12 are eligible to receive shots, as well as a general decrease in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.
“We’re at a new point in the pandemic
that we’re all very excited about,” said Erin Sauber-Schatz, who leads the CDC
task force that develops recommendations to keep Americans safe from COVID-19.
The nation's top public health
agency is not advising schools
to require shots for teachers and vaccine-eligible students, nor is it providing guidance on how teachers can know which students have been vaccinated or how parents can know which teachers have been immunized.
According to Elizabeth Stuart, a public health professor at John Hopkins University
who has children in elementary and middle school, this will most likely result in challenging school environments.
“It would be a very strange social dynamic to have some kids wearing masks and others not, and tracking that? Teachers shouldn’t have to keep track of which kids should be wearing masks,” she said.
Another potential stumbling block: Schools should continue to space
students — and their desks — 3 feet apart in classrooms, according to the CDC. However, the agency stressed that spacing should not be an impediment to getting kids back in school, and that distance is not required among fully vaccinated students or staff.
All of this may be difficult to implement, which is why, according to Sauber-Schatz, the CDC advises schools to make the best decisions possible.
The most difficult questions will be raised at middle schools, where some students are eligible for shots while others are not. If sorting vaccinated and unvaccinated students proves too difficult, administrators may opt to maintain a masking policy for all students.
“The guidance is really written to allow flexibility at the local level,” said Sauber-Schatz.
Indeed, widespread mask-wearing is expected to continue this fall in some of the country's largest school districts. In Detroit
's public schools, everyone will be required to wear a mask unless everyone in the classroom has been vaccinated. In Philadelphia
, all public school students and staff will be required to wear masks inside buildings, even if they have been vaccinated.
What about making COVID-19 vaccination a requirement for school attendance, as is done across the country to combat the spread of measles and other diseases?
The CDC has repeatedly praised such requirements, but it did not recommend it on Friday because it is a state and local policy decision, according to CDC officials.
Early in the pandemic, health officials were concerned that schools would become coronavirus
breeding grounds, sparking community outbreaks; however, studies have shown that when certain prevention measures are followed, schools often see less transmission than the surrounding community.
The new guidance is the most recent update to the CDC's advice to schools, which it began issuing last year.
The CDC dropped its recommendation that children and their desks be spaced 6 feet apart in March, reducing the distance to 3 feet, and it also dropped its recommendation that plastic shields be used.
In May, the CDC stated that Americans in general do not need to be as cautious about masks and distance outside, and that fully vaccinated people
do not need masks in most situations, which was incorporated into updated guidance for summer camps — and now, schools.
According to the new school policy,
—Masks are not required at recess or in most other outdoor situations at schools; however, unvaccinated people should wear masks if they are in a crowd for an extended period of time, such as in the stands at a football
—Ventilation and handwashing remain important, and students and staff should stay at home when sick.
—While testing remains an important method of preventing outbreaks, the CDC also states that people who are fully vaccinated are not required to participate in such screening.
—Separating students into smaller groups, or cohorts, is still a good way to help reduce virus spread; however, the CDC discouraged separating vaccinated and unvaccinated children, saying schools should not stigmatize any group or perpetuate academic, racial, or other tracking.
The National Education
, Becky Pringle, described the new CDC guidance as "an important roadmap for reducing the risk of COVID-19 in schools."
“Schools should consistently and rigorously implement all recommended mitigation strategies, including requiring masks in all settings where unvaccinated individuals are present, as well as ensuring adequate ventilation, handwashing, and cleaning,” she added.
Miguel Cardona, the United States
Secretary of Education, has promised to work
with schools to help students return to the classroom.
“We know that in-person learning provides critical opportunities for all students to develop healthy, nurturing relationships
with educators and peers, and that students receive critical supports in school for their social and emotional well-being, mental health
, and academic success,” he said in a statement.
Binkley was in Boston
when this story was published.
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science
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