CDC says no masks for vaccinated students, teachers. What will parents, school staff say?

In new guidance issued today, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said students and teachers who are vaccinated don’t need to wear masks in schools in the fall..  (Jon Cherry/Getty Images/TNS)
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In new guidance issued today, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said students and teachers who are vaccinated don’t need to wear masks in schools in the fall.. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Atlanta-based agency still advises masking for those who are not fully vaccinated

In new guidance issued today, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said students and teachers who are vaccinated against COVID-19 don’t need to wear masks in schools in the fall. The agency urges schools to reopen even if they can’t enact all the protocols for maximum safety, noting that the closing of classrooms over the past 16 months took a toll on students and families.

The guidance will not end the mask debate, which has been particularly heated in Atlanta suburban districts where small but vocal groups of parents disputed the science that face coverings prevented the spread of the virus. The updated guidance still calls for masks indoors by all students and staff who are not fully vaccinated, explaining, “Consistent and correct mask use by people who are not fully vaccinated is especially important indoors and in crowded settings, when physical distancing cannot be maintained.”

Masks are also advised in communities with increasing or substantial or high COVID-19 transmission within the school or community and where a variant of the virus is on the rise among children and adolescents or causing more severe illness. Also, the CDC says masks may be warranted when schools can’t monitor the vaccine status of their students and staff or where vaccination rates are low.

The guidance falls short of pushing schools to mandate immunizations for teachers and eligible students. Nor does it address the thorny privacy question of revealing which students and staff are vaccinated to others in the school community, noting, “Schools that plan to request voluntary submission of documentation of COVID-19 vaccination status should use the same standard protocols that are used to collect and secure other immunization or health status information from students” and “comply with relevant statutory and regulatory requirements, including Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) statutory and regulatory requirements.”

The CDC guidance also recommends “at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms, combined with indoor mask wearing by people who are not fully vaccinated, to reduce transmission risk.”

“The CDC’s latest guidance provides an important roadmap for reducing the risk of COVID-19 in schools. And it is up to all of us in communities across the country to make it possible for all school buildings to be fully open, to stay open, and for all students, staff, and families to remain healthy,” said National Education Association President Becky Pringle in a statement. “As the delta variant spreads in many parts of the country and infections are increasing in younger people, it is particularly important that politicians, community leaders, parents, and educators work together to ensure that we all do our part. Everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated should get their COVID-19 vaccination.”

The guidance delivers a clear message schools ought to open and stay open even when transmission rates are increasing by emphasizing prevention efforts:

Many schools serve children under the age of 12 who are not eligible for vaccination at this time. Therefore, this guidance emphasizes implementing layered prevention strategies (e.g., using multiple prevention strategies together) to protect people who are not fully vaccinated, including students, teachers, staff, and other members of their households. The guidance is intended to help administrators and local health officials select appropriate, layered prevention strategies and understand how to safely transition learning environments out of COVID-19 pandemic precautions as community transmission of COVID-19 reaches low levels or stops.

Schools will have a mixed population of both people who are fully vaccinated and people who are not fully vaccinated. Elementary schools primarily serve children under 12 years of age who are not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine at this time. Other schools (e.g., middle schools, K-8 schools) may also have students who are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccination. Some schools (e.g., high schools) may have a low percentage of students and staff fully vaccinated despite vaccine eligibility. These variations require K-12 administrators to make decisions about the use of COVID-19 prevention strategies in their schools to protect people who are not fully vaccinated.

The CDC says that in establishing their COVID-19 safety protocols, schools should consider:

Level of community transmission of COVID-19.

COVID-19 vaccination coverage in the community and among students, teachers, and staff.

Use of a frequent SARS-CoV-2 screening testing program for students, teachers, and staff who are not fully vaccinated.

COVID-19 outbreaks or increasing trends in the school or surrounding community.

Ages of children served by K-12 schools and the associated social and behavioral factors that may affect risk of transmission and the feasibility of different prevention strategies.

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