Students wearing masks listen to teacher Dorene Scala during third grade summer school at Hooper Avenue School on June 23, 2021 in Los Angeles.
Carolyn Cole | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its public health guidelines for schools Friday, saying fully vaccinated teachers and students do not have to wear masks inside school buildings.
Teachers and students who are not vaccinated should still continue to wear masks indoors, the U.S. agency said, adding that it is especially important when indoors and in crowded environments when social distance cannot be maintained.
The agency also said it still recommends that students stay at least 3 feet apart in classrooms combined with indoor masks wearing people who are not fully vaccinated, to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus.
“When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet, such as when schools cannot reopen completely while maintaining these distances, it is especially important to put in place several other prevention strategies, such as indoor masking,” the CDC wrote in its guidance.
The CDC’s guidance is only a recommendation that leaves it to states and local school districts as to whether or not to repeal their masking rules for certain people. It is unlikely to have any effect on students under the age of 12 who are not currently eligible to receive a Covid vaccine in the United States.
Covid prevention strategies remain critical to protect humans from the virus, especially in areas with moderate to high levels of transmission in the community, the agency said.
The updated guidance comes as several states across the United States have largely removed their mask needs, social distance, and other pandemic-related restrictions because Covid vaccines have helped reduce the number of new infections and deaths.
In mid-May, the CDC said fully vaccinated people did not need to wear masks in most settings, whether indoors or outdoors. They are still expected to wear masks on public transport, the agency said, such as on planes, buses and trains. The federal government’s mask mandate for public transportation expires on September 13, unless the CDC extends it again.
The guidance may be controversial, as researchers and other health experts say mandates for indoor masks may return in the fall, especially in low-vaccinated states, as the highly transmissible delta variant is spreading across the United States.
Already the dominant variant in the US will hit the states with the lowest vaccination rates the hardest – unless these states and companies reintroduce mask rules, capacity constraints and other public health measures, which they have largely rolled back in recent months, experts say. .
“I could anticipate that in some parts of the country, mandates for indoor masks, distance and occupancy limits could be reintroduced in the coming months,” said Lawrence Gostin, director of the World Health Organization’s Center for Cooperation on National and Global Health Law. .
Some places, such as Los Angeles County, California, recommend “everyone, regardless of vaccination status,” wear masks indoors in public places as a precautionary measure.
In Mississippi, where less than a third of the state’s eligible population is fully vaccinated, officials last week recommended that all residents continue to wear masks indoors, as the delta becomes the dominant variant in the state.
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. Masks are not imposed in Houston schools.
–The Associated Press contributed to this report.