As the COVID-19 pandemic
spreads across the country, the American Academy of Pediatrics
recommended on Monday that all children
over the age of two wear masks
in school this fall, regardless of vaccination status.
The guidelines, which strongly support the return to in-person learning in the coming months, are part of a multi-pronged effort to see students
return to the classroom safely more than a year and a half after the pandemic began.
“We must prioritize getting children back into schools
alongside their friends
, and we must all play a role in ensuring that it happens safely,” Sonja O’Leary, chair of the AAP Council on School Health, said in a statement
. “Combining layers of protection that include vaccinations
, masking, and clean hands hygiene will make in-person learning safe and possible for everyone.”
The AAP also suggested that parents make sure their children are up to date on any vaccinations they may have missed during the pandemic, and that schools provide adequate indoor ventilation as well as increased resources for testing, quarantining, and cleaning when positive cases of the virus emerge. (The AAP's guidelines include exclusions for students with medical conditions or disabilities.)
for children are currently only authorized for those 12 and older in the United States
, which means that many students will likely return to school without immunizations this fall, according to the AAP, who also cited the inability of many schools to track students' vaccination status, particularly in communities with low vaccination rates.
The policy guidelines reflect ongoing concerns about the spread of COVID-19, particularly since the highly transmissible delta variant
of the virus became the dominant strain in the United States. Case numbers are rising in every state, and some regions, including Los Angeles County
, have decided to reinstate mask mandates, despite public health
officials' ongoing calls for citizens to get vaccinated.
Vaccines are the best defense against severe COVID-19 cases and death associated with the disease, and current inoculations protect well against the delta strain. Almost all of the nation's current coronavirus deaths
are among unvaccinated people
, prompting health officials to be concerned about a stubborn stall in the level of inoculations.
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy
said this week that as more transmissible variants cause case spikes, he expects more areas to reintroduce COVID-19 prevention measures, including mask requirements, on a rolling basis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
stated in May that fully vaccinated people could remove their masks in most settings during a vaccination blitz, but the delta variant has thrown some regions' plans into disarray.
Dr. Anthony Fauci
, the nation's top infectious disease expert, told CNN
on Monday that the AAP's recommendations were reasonable, given that a large swath of the country remained unvaccinated, especially during the spread of the delta variant.
“When there is a degree of viral
dynamics in the community and a significant proportion of the population is unvaccinated, you really want to go the extra step, the extra mile to make sure that there isn’t a lot of transmission, even breakthrough
infections among vaccinated individuals,” he said.