This is a sharp departure from previous guidance from the CDC
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines this week stating that vaccinated students can go maskless this fall and classmates who have not should continue to wear face masks.
The guidance comes as children ages 12 and older have the ability to be vaccinated and as schools meet to decide what a return to classroom will look like for them. For many students, this return is just weeks away.
“We recognize that we’re about a month out from school starting in some areas,” said Erin Sauber-Schatz, a CDC official who oversaw the school guidelines throughout the pandemic. “But we wanted to do a re-review … to make sure that the recommendations that we were making for the fall school year were based on science and the best available evidence that we have at the time.”
Unfortunately, there is little information regarding how schools will actually know if a student has been vaccinated or what that process will look like. According to NPR, just one out of three kids ages 12 to 17 have received a COVID vaccine.
“The school has to decide if and how they’re able to document vaccination status,” Sauber-Schatz said. If that is not possible, she said, “the safest thing to do to protect those people who are not fully vaccinated” is to require masks for all students and faculty. “For families who haven’t gotten their kids vaccinated yet, now is the time.”
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona agreed with the recommendation, stating that the top priority for the upcoming school year is getting kids back in the classrooms with teachers to learn, including the impact to their mental health. “Schools have access to unprecedented resources to implement health and safety measures to best accommodate students for full-time in-person learning, and to address our students’ social, emotional, and academic needs,” he said.
For children under 12, the CDC recommends mask-wearing for those ages two and up. They also suggest a minimum of three feet social distancing for in-person learning, in addition to hand-washing, proper indoor ventilation, and cleaning of all classrooms and materials.
“Vaccination is currently the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic,” the agency stated as part of their recommendations. “Promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports.”
Regardless of the recommendation, it leaves parents, teachers, and staff in a predicament until detailed information can be provided on how school administration plan to record and track vaccinations, and even then there is still risk.