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CDC publishes new guide on masks in schools

The agency says it is up to schools to establish policies to verify vaccinations.

Students who have been vaccinated do not have to wear masks to school in the fall unless they ride the school bus or their school decides otherwise, according to new guidance released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The recommendation could also encourage parents who were previously indecisive. Children over 1

2 years of age qualify for the Pfizer vaccine, which requires two doses three weeks apart.

“Achieving high levels of COVID-19 vaccination among qualified students as well as teachers, staff and household members is one of the most critical strategies to help schools safely resume full surgery,” the CDC said.

The CDC recommendations specifically encourage unvaccinated students and staff to continue wearing masks and encourage schools to offer voluntary routine testing at least once a week. It also encourages 3-foot distance between unvaccinated children in the classroom, but says recommendation should not prevent classrooms from reopening.

The CDC also recommends that all bus drivers and their passengers – vaccinated or not – wear a mask while traveling to school.

The biggest starting point for schools, however, is probably whether proof of vaccination should be required. Most schools already need proof of childhood vaccinations with few exceptions.

The CDC, which does not set vaccination requirements for schools or childcare centers, makes it clear in its recommendations that it is up to schools and local officials to decide what to do. The agency specifically notes that schools can opt for a universal masking policy, especially if they have unvaccinated populations and do not want to require verification that a person has been vaccinated.

“We allow for flexibility in our guidance,” said Captain Erin Sauber-Schatz, who helped write the guidelines as a member of the CDC’s COVID response team.

Ultimately, “it’s really about protecting the people who are either not yet eligible for the vaccine because of their age, or people who are not yet fully vaccinated,” she added.

So far, many companies have been reluctant to impose the vaccines or ask for proof, creating a kind of honor scheme. Health experts say that could change in a few months if federal regulators give full approval to the vaccines, which are currently being distributed under emergency permits.

It is likely that many schools will still set their own policies and even ignore CDC guidance.

In Arizona, the Chandler Unified School District, which welcomes students on July 21 – one of the nation’s earliest start dates – had already decided that masks would be voluntary when Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed a law banning locals counties and school districts from requiring students or staff to wear face masks.

Sauber-Schatz said the CDC’s goal was to write useful guidance for all schools, even jurisdictions that planned to waive mask mandates.

According to the recommendations, CDC advises schools to slowly repeal COVID protocols – also for masks – if society has small cases and high vaccination rates; on the contrary, areas with high cases and low vaccination rates should keep different strategies in place to prevent outbreaks, according to the CDC.

Parents should also know that a child is not “fully immunized” until two weeks after their second shot. Because the shots are spread at three-week intervals, that means a teenager hoping to be fully immunized by mid-August needs their first shot now.

“The message is really, if your child is eligible for the vaccine, it’s time to get vaccinated now,” Sauber-Schatz said.

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