The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated COVID guidance for schools on Friday, recommending that fully vaccinated teachers and students don’t need to wear masks inside school buildings. That’s unless they’re riding the school bus or their school decides otherwise.
“Students benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction in the fall 2021 is a priority,” the agency said, adding that “achieving high levels of COVID-19 vaccination among eligible students as well as teachers, staff, and household members is one of the most critical strategies to help schools safely resume full operations.”
The CDC notes that vaccines are now only available for people ages 12 and up; while the new recommendations pave the way for eliminating the mask requirement in schools, a large proportion of school-age children are unprotected. Elizabeth Stuart, a John Hopkins University public health professor who has children in elementary and middle schools, told theAssociated Press that “it would be a very weird dynamic, socially, to have some kids wearing masks and some not.” To that end, the agency is recommending continued masking for anyone who is unvaccinated and also encouraging a three-feet distancing rule among unvaccinated kids in the classroom. It also recommends schools offer voluntary routine testing at least once a week.
The new school guidance isn’t mandatory: School districts and local governments have the authority to opt to make masking universal or ditch it completely, even for unvaccinated students.
Later Friday, the leaders of the country’s two largest teachers’ unions, the National Education Alliance and the American Federation of Teachers, both signaled their approval of the new CDC guidance.