According to new guidelines issued Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, students who have been vaccinated do not need to wear masks in school this fall unless they are riding the school bus or their school determines otherwise.
The new federal standards aren’t obligatory, but they’re likely to have an impact on school administrators, local health agencies, and governors as they prepare for children to return to school full-time this fall.
Parents who were previously uncertain may be encouraged by the advice. Children over the age of 12 are eligible for the Pfizer vaccination, which is administered in two doses three weeks apart.
“One of the most essential initiatives to assist schools safely resume full operations is to achieve high levels of COVID-19 immunization among eligible children, teachers, staff, and household members,” the CDC noted.
Unvaccinated kids and employees should continue to wear masks, according to the CDC, and schools should provide optional routine testing at least once a week. It also recommends a 3-foot separation between unvaccinated children in the classroom but adds this should not prohibit schools from resuming.
The CDC also advises that all bus drivers and passengers, whether or whether they have been vaccinated, wear a mask when going to school.
The most contentious issue for schools will most likely be whether or not to require evidence of immunization. With rare exceptions, most schools currently demand documentation of childhood vaccinations.
The CDC, which does not mandate vaccinations for schools or child care facilities, makes it plain in its recommendations that the decision would be made by schools and local officials. The CDC expressly mentions that schools may choose to use a universal masking policy, especially if they have unvaccinated populations and don’t want to seek proof of vaccination.
“We do allow for flexibility in our recommendations,” said Capt. Erin Sauber-Schatz, a member of the CDC’s COVID response team who assisted in the writing of the guidelines.
Finally, “this is basically about safeguarding kids who are either not yet eligible for vaccine owing to their age, or those who are not completely vaccinated,” she explained.
The Biden administration has stated that it would not seek a federal vaccination mandate, instead of leaving the decision to schools and companies. However, due to the potential of variations spreading through travel, it has advocated for universal mask-wearing on aircraft, trains, buses, and other public transit, even among those who have been vaccinated.
Many companies have been hesitant to require vaccinations or ask for proof, resulting in a sort of honor system. That may change in a few months, according to health experts, if federal authorities provide full permission to the vaccinations, which are now being administered under emergency authorization.
Many schools are likely to create their own rules nonetheless, even if the CDC advises against it.
When Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed a law prohibiting local counties and school districts from requiring students or staff to wear face coverings, Chandler Unified School District, which welcomes students back on July 21 — one of the earliest start dates in the country — had already decided that masks would be optional.
The CDC’s objective, according to Sauber-Schatz, was to create usable guidelines for all schools, even those who planned to forego mask regulations.
If the neighborhood has low case numbers and high vaccination rates, the CDC encourages schools to gradually eliminate COVID procedures, including masks; on the other hand, regions with high case numbers and poor vaccination rates should retain different methods in place to avoid outbreaks, according to the CDC.
Parents should also be aware that their kid is not “completely immunized” until two weeks following their second vaccination. Because the injections are three weeks apart, an adolescent who wants to be completely vaccinated by mid-August will need to have their first vaccine now.
“The message is basically that if your child is vaccine-eligible, now is the time to be vaccinated,” Sauber-Schatz said.