CDC encourages schools to open for in-person learning
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is encouraging schools to open for in-person learning this fall, and said that fully vaccinated students and teachers do not need to wear masks indoors.
Updated CDC guidance eases recommendations for kindergarten through 12th grade, and comes as coronavirus vaccines have become widely available for anyone over the age of 12.
“Students benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction in the fall 2021 is a priority,” the CDC said.
The CDC noted that while COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred in school settings, multiple studies have shown that school transmission rates are typically lower than — or similar to — community transmission levels when multiple prevention strategies are in place.
The agency is not recommending that vaccines be required for all eligible students and teachers, and it is also not recommending how administrators can distinguish between who has been vaccinated and who has not.
The CDC said that even unvaccinated students and staff don’t need to wear masks outside during gym or recess, but are encouraged to do so in crowded outdoor settings if they are not vaccinated and levels of virus transmission are high.
Administrators could also recommend universal mask requirements if there is high local transmission, if the students are too young to be vaccinated, or if it’s too difficult to monitor or enforce mask policies or vaccinations across students and staff.
The updated guidance emphasizes vaccination, but also prevention and screening strategies such as testing, ventilation and correct mask use for anyone who is unvaccinated. The CDC is also recommending that schools continue to space children and their desks 3 feet apart.
But the agency emphasized that those recommendations should not be used as barriers for opening up full time for in-person schooling.
When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet, the CDC recommended layering multiple other prevention strategies.
“Because of the importance of in-person learning, schools where not everyone is fully vaccinated should implement physical distancing to the extent possible … but should not exclude students from in-person learning to keep a minimum distance requirement,” it said.
The guidance comes as school districts across the country have largely made their own policies for the next school year, consistent with local rules. Many districts have lifted mask requirements completely, and in some parts of the country the school year begins in just a few weeks.
The CDC’s updates come as about two-thirds of the county have been partially vaccinated, but there remain large sections of the nation with low vaccination rates, and children under 12 years old are not yet eligible.
Experts and health officials warn unvaccinated areas are extremely susceptible to outbreaks from the highly contagious delta variant.
“CDC will continue to monitor variants to see if they have any impact on prevention strategies and how COVID-19 vaccines work in real-world conditions and will update guidance accordingly,” the agency said in the guidance.
“Over the last year-and-a-half, a lot has been learned about COVID-19, as well as the prevention and mitigation strategies that are proving effective in our fight against the virus like masking and distancing,” Cardona said.