New guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends universal mask-wearing in schools, regardless of vaccination status
As parents and school staffers alike gear up for in-person classes beginning in a matter of weeks in some states, COVID-19 cases continue to rise in all 50 states, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Add to the mix that children are not yet eligible to receive COVID vaccines, and it’s clear that the pandemic is far from over, with the potential to cause serious illness and/or hospitalization for anyone who is not yet fully vaccinated.
In their new interim guidance for safe schools, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year, but strongly suggests that all students over the age of two — and all staffers, regardless of vaccination status — wear masks at school unless they have medical or developmental conditions that prohibit them from doing so. This recommendation is stricter than that of recently released guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which noted that vaccinated students can return to school without masks.
“The AAP believes that, at this point in the pandemic, 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, that the benefits of in-person school outweigh the risks in all circumstances,” the guidance says.
By recommending universal masking, it will be easier to protect everyone than by having teachers and administrators left to enforce mask policies based on vaccination status, for which schools may not be equipped to do. Masks also help protect students and staffers of all ages from other respiratory illnesses, making the move safer for everyone, even those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“As we start the 2021-2022 school year, a large portion of students are not eligible to be vaccinated and there are COVID variants that are more contagious. Because of this and because we want to have all students in school, the AAP advocates for all students, teachers and staff to wear masks while indoors in school,” said Sonja O’Leary, M.D., FAAP, chair of the AAP Council on School Health Executive Committee in a press release announcing the guidance.
Dr. Sara Bode, chair-elect of the AAP Council on School Health Executive Committee, echoed those sentiments, adding, “There are many children and others who cannot be vaccinated. This is why it’s important to use every tool in our toolkit to safeguard children from COVID-19. Universal masking is one of those tools, and has been proven effective in protecting people against other respiratory diseases, as well. It’s also the most effective strategy to create consistent messages and expectations among students without the added burden of needing to monitor everyone’s vaccination status.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, co-signed the AAP’s guidance, telling CNN that the agency is “a thoughtful group,” adding, “They analyze the situation, and if they feel that that’s the way to go, I think that is a reasonable thing to do.”
Both agencies — the AAP and the CDC — are in agreement that in-person education is the best option for students across the country, despite the rise in COVID cases due to rapidly spreading variants. “Remote-learning highlighted inequities in education, was detrimental to the educational attainment of students of all ages, and exacerbated the mental health crisis among children and adolescents,” per the AAP guidance, which added that “the benefits of in-person school outweigh the risks in almost all circumstances.”