The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released new guidelines for COVID-19 safety in schools as states continue to reopen — either because of increasing vaccination rates or because of mounting pressure from those who disregard the virus’s danger.
The CDC on Friday announced that vaccinated students and educators will no longer need to cover their faces in-person on campus, whether indoors or outdoors. Those who aren’t vaccinated should still wear masks, according to the new guidance.
But the federal department also said masking is imperative “when it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet.”
That appears to be the case in California, where shortly after the CDC’s announcement, the state department of public health said students and teachers will continue to wear masks in the fall because it would not be able to ensure proper physical distancing.
"Masking is a simple and effective intervention that does not interfere with offering full in-person instruction,” California Health & Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said in a statement. “At the outset of the new year, students should be able to walk into school without worrying about whether they will feel different or singled out for being vaccinated or unvaccinated — treating all kids the same will support a calm and supportive school environment."
The California Department of Public Health said it will continue to require face coverings indoors in school settings, as well as continue to work on COVID-19 testing.
Lisa Gardiner, spokeswoman with the California Teachers Association, the largest teachers union in the state, said the guidance puts schools “in a good position to ensure safe in-person instruction for students this fall. As CTA has said all along, learning happens best in-person and educators want to be with their students in classrooms.”
Gardiner continued: “The guidance of multi-layered safety measures, recognition of local health conditions, robust testing and vaccines for educators and all eligible students remains key to continuing to prioritize a healthy and safe learning environment.”
Gardiner also urged local districts to open school sites as community vaccination clinics to increase vaccination rates.
Critics of California’s school reopening plans have called on the CDPH and CDC to fully endorse a no-masking policy at schools because “children are at very low risk from becoming infected with COVID, transmitting it to others, or becoming seriously ill from COVID.”
“A return to as normal a school year as possible is crucial to the mental health recovery for students across California who endured months of isolation and a majority who spent last school year entirely in distance learning,” Megan Bacigalupi with OpenSchoolsCA wrote in a statement.
More than 4 million children in the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19 as of July 1, according to a review of state coronavirus data by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association. Children also represent less than 1% of all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S., the AAP said.
Only kids 12 years and older can receive the COVID-19 vaccine. So far, the Federal Drug Administration has only granted emergency authorization to Pfizer-BioNTech to vaccinate children 12 years and older.