COVID-19 and Schools

CDC Recommends “Universal Indoor Masking” in Schools

In response to the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19, the CDC once again updated its mask-wearing guidelines this week. The health organization now recommends that fully vaccinated people who live in areas with high or substantial risk of community transmission resume wearing masks indoors. It also recommends “universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.”

“The highest spread of cases and severe outcomes is happening in places with low vaccination rates and among unvaccinated people,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. “[T]he associated illness suffering and death could have been avoided.” None of the available vaccines have yet been authorized for children younger than 12, and as it was only recently made available to teenagers, many teens have not yet received the shot, either.

“Next week, we have many school systems that are starting around the country, and I think we all agree that children 11 or less are not going to be able to be vaccinated,” said Walensky. “With only 30% of kids between 12 and 17 fully vaccinated now, more cases in this country, and a real effort to try and make sure that our kids can safely get back to full in-person learning in the fall, we’re recommending that everybody wear masks right now.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends that school staff and all students over the age of 2 wear masks when school resumes this fall. Both organizations consider the mask recommendation a crucial step in safely reopening facilities to in-person learning.

“Given what we know about low rates of in-school transmission when proper prevention measures are used, together with the availability of effective vaccines for those age 12 years and up, the benefits of in-person school outweigh the risks in almost all circumstances,” said the AAP.

According to CNN, the country’s three largest school districts in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago have mask requirements in place. And among the 12 largest school districts in the country, all require masks except those located in Florida and Texas. Governors in those states have banned schools from establishing mask mandates. Schools in those states are still urging teachers, students and staff to wear masks at their own discretion.

“Earlier this summer, Governor Abbott issued an executive order banning mask mandates on public school campuses, so HISD cannot require them, but those who want to wear masks may certainly do so,” said Dennis Spellman, spokesperson for the Houston Independent School District in Houston, Texas.

Many agree that the updated CDC guidance will be sufficient to encourage schools to institute mask mandates. “School districts look to CDC for guidance, so having clear recommendations will make it easier for them to set masking policies,” said Caitlin Rivers, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Health Security. “I encourage indoor masking for children too young to be vaccinated. The delta variant spreads very easily, and classrooms are high-risk environments without protective measures. Children are at much lower risk of severe illness than adults, but they can and do get infected and transmit the virus to others.”

About the Author

Matt Jones is senior editor of Spaces4Learning. He can be reached at [email protected].