The new guidelines mark the first time the CDC has recommended that fully vaccinated students and teachers do not have to wear masks in the classroom. The updates come amid a growing number of Covid-19 cases linked to the more transferable Delta variant in states in the South, Southwest and Midwest.
Depending on the level of community spread and vaccination rates, schools may decide to universally impose masks, the CDC said, adding that it is up to local officials to decide the best way to reduce and contain the virus.
The CDC strongly recommended that all those eligible to receive the Covid-1
“Vaccination is currently the leading public health prevention strategy to end the Covid-19 pandemic. Promoting vaccination can help schools return to personal learning as well as activities outside of school and sports, ”the CDC said in a statement.
The CDC stressed that its guidance is intended to supplement local public health policies and not replace them. But it also encourages schools to allow all students to participate in teaching in person, even if physical distance is not possible.
The agency pointed to studies showing that schools were not a major source of transmission of Covid-19, especially when other precautions were taken beyond distance.
The guidelines still recommend that schools that drop their pandemic measures do so gradually in an effort to avoid triggering outbreaks.
“They should remove them one at a time and monitor closely (with adequate testing) for any increases in COVID-19 cases,” the CDC said.
While the country’s best teachers’ associations supported the health agency’s latest guidance on Friday, their leaders expressed concern about the rapidly spreading Delta variant, urging schools to continue the safety measures taken during the country’s deadly encounters with the disease.
“Schools should consistently and strictly apply all of the recommended mitigation strategies, including requiring masks in all settings where unvaccinated individuals are present, and ensuring adequate ventilation, hand washing and cleaning,” National Education Association President Becky Pringle said in a statement, urging schools to use “proven Covid-19 screening test” to isolate cases and reduce virus spread.
“The guide confirms two truths: that students learn better in the classroom, and that vaccines remain our best chance to stop the spread of this virus and get our children and educators all the way back to these classrooms for personal learning,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said. “It also makes it clear that masking is important in the absence of vaccination,” she said in addition to upgraded ventilation, regular virus testing and physical distance.
“We share the growing concern about the delta variant as well as the scientific developments surrounding Covid transmission in young people, all of which make it necessary for school districts to remain involved in both vaccinations and these safety protocols,” Weingarten said.