Fully Vaccinated Students and Teachers Don't Need to Wear Masks Indoors at School, CDC Says
The CDC is also continuing to encourage all Americans, especially eligible children, to get vaccinated
With COVID-19 vaccines now readily available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are loosening its guidelines on masks ahead of the start of the upcoming school year.
The CDC now recommends that masks only need to be worn indoors by people aged 2 and older who have not been fully vaccinated. The announcement mirrored a similar easing of restrictions back in May, when the CDC said that fully vaccinated Americans could safely go without masks in most indoor and outdoor places.
As of Sunday, 159.3 million people in the United States have been fully vaccinated, nearly half of the total population. Kids aged 12 and up are currently eligible for vaccination, and according to NPR, so far 1 in 3 children have received the vaccine.
"Vaccination is currently the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports," the CDC wrote in their updated guidelines, continuing to encourage everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated.
Additionally, the CDC also recommends "at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms" and that proper ventilation, handwashing and cleaning should also be prioritized. They also advised that all students and staff who are sick should be encouraged to stay home.
The updated guidance comes with U.S. COVID-19 cases at their lowest numbers since the beginning of the pandemic, with an average of 19,000 new infections a day. However, the nation's recovery from the virus is becoming disjointed, with states where most are vaccinated seeing a drop in cases while those that are undervaccinated, particularly in the Midwest and the South, are struggling with a rise in infections as the highly-contagious Delta variant spreads.
"We're at a new point in the pandemic that we're all really excited about," CDC official Erin Sauber-Schatz told the Associated Press.
Putting an emphasis on a return to in-person learning, the CDC has also stressed that if schools are not able to follow the recommended physical distance guidelines, that should not impact their ability to reopen.
During a recent interview with NBC Nightly News, Dr. Anthony Fauci also spoke out in support of schools across the country reopening. "We want to get children back in school in person across the board as we enter into the fall term," he said.
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Despite the CDC's updated guidance on masks, the ultimate decision will still be up to state and local health officials.
Last week, California indicated that they would still require all K-12 students to wear masks indoors, noting that in addition to safety reasons they didn't want children to "feel different or singled out for being vaccinated or unvaccinated."
"At the outset of the new year, students should be able to walk into school without worrying about whether they will feel different or singled out for being vaccinated or unvaccinated — treating all kids the same will support a calm and supportive school environment," California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Meanwhile, other states, including Texas and Arizona, have previously put an end to mask mandates.
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The CDC has also noted that it's not too late for parents to make sure their children are fully vaccinated by the start of school year.
"For families who haven't gotten their kids vaccinated yet, now is the time," Sauber-Schatz told NPR on Friday. "It takes five weeks to get fully vaccinated. If you got your first shot today, the second would be July 30, and you'd be fully vaccinated on Aug. 13. So now's the time if you haven't gotten vaccinated yet."
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