CDC: Vaccinated Teachers And Students Don’t Need Masks

by Joseph K. Clark

NEW YORK (AP) — Vaccinated teachers and students don’t need to wear masks inside school buildings, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday in relaxing its COVID-19 guidelines.

The changes come amid a national vaccination campaign in which children as young as 12 are eligible to get shots and a general decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.

“We’re at a new point in the pandemic that we’re all excited about,” and so it’s time to update the guidance, said Erin Sauber-Schatz, who leads the CDC task force that prepares recommendations to keep Americans safe from COVID-19.

The nation’s top public health agency is not advising schools to require shots for teachers and vaccine-eligible kids. And it’s not offering guidance on how teachers can know which students are vaccinated or how parents will know which teachers are immunized.

That will probably make for some challenging school environments, said Elizabeth Stuart, a Johns Hopkins University public health professor with children in elementary and middle schools.


“It would be socially peculiar dynamic to have some kids wearing masks and some not. And tracking that? Teachers shouldn’t need to keep track of which kids should have masks on,” she said.

Another potential headache: Schools should continue to space kids — and their desks — 3 feet apart in classrooms, the CDC says. But the agency emphasized that spacing should not hinder getting kids back to school. And it told distancing is not required among fully vaccinated students or staff.

All of this may prove hard to implement, and that’s why CDC is advising schools to make the most sense decisions, Sauber-Schatz said.

The biggest questions will be at middle schools where some students are eligible for shots and others aren’t. If sorting vaccinated and unvaccinated students proves too burdensome, administrators might choose to keep a masking policy in place for everyone. “The guidance is written to allow flexibility at the local level,” Sauber-Schatz said.

Indeed, in some of the nation’s largest school districts, widespread mask-wearing is expected to continue this fall. In Detroit’s public schools, everyone must wear a mask unless everyone in the classroom has been vaccinated. Philadelphia will require all public school students and staff to wear masks inside buildings, even if they have been vaccinated. But masks won’t be mandated in Houston schools.

What about requiring COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of school attendance? That’s commonly done nationwide to prevent the spread of measles and other diseases.

The CDC has repeatedly praised such requirements, but the agency on Friday didn’t recommend that measure because it is considered a state and local policy decision, CDC officials said.

Early in the pandemic, health officials worried schools might become coronavirus cauldrons that spark community outbreaks. But studies have shown that schools often see less transmission than the surrounding community when specific prevention measures are followed.

The new guidance is the latest revision to advise the CDC began making to schools last year. In March, the CDC stopped recommending that children and their desks be spaced 6 feet apart, shrinking the distance to 3 feet and dropping its call to use plastic shields.

In May, the agency said Americans generally don’t have to be as cautious about masks and distancing outdoors and that fully vaccinated people don’t need covers in most situations. That change was incorporated into updated guidance for summer camps and schools.

The new school’s guidance says:

—No one at school needs to wear masks at recess or in most other outdoor situations. However, unvaccinated people are advised to wear masks in a crowd for an extended period, like in the stands at a football game.

—Ventilation and handwashing continue to be necessary. Students and staff also should stay home when they are sick.

—Testing remains a critical way to prevent outbreaks. But the CDC also says fully vaccinated people do not need to participate in such screening.

—Separating students into smaller groups or cohorts is an excellent way to help reduce the spread of the virus. But the CDC discouraged putting vaccinated and unvaccinated kids in separate groups, saying schools shouldn’t stigmatize any group or perpetuate academic, racial, or other track.

Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, called the new CDC guidance “an important roadmap for reducing the risk of COVID-19 in schools.”

She added: “Schools should be consistently and rigorously employing all the recommended mitigation strategies, including requiring masks in all settings where unvaccinated individuals are present and ensuring adequate ventilation, handwashing, and cleaning.” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona pledged to work with schools to help them get kids back into classrooms.

“We know that in-person learning offers vital opportunities for all students to develop healthy, nurturing relationships with educators and peers and that students receive essential support in school for their social and emotional well-being, mental health, and academic success,” he said. Binkley reported from Boston.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content. Calling all HuffPost superfans! Sign up for membership to become a founding member and help shape HuffPost’s next chapter.

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