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Vaccinated students and teachers do not need masks in schools, says CDC | National news

NEW YORK (AP) – Vaccinated teachers and students do not have to wear masks inside school buildings, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday as they relaxed the COVID-19 guidelines.

The changes come amid a national vaccination campaign in which children as young as 12 are eligible for shots, as well as a general drop in COVID-19 admissions and deaths.

“We’re at a new point in the pandemic that we’re all really excited about,” and then it’s time to update the guide, “said Erin Sauber-Schatz, head of the CDC Task Force, which makes recommendations designed to keep Americans in safety from COVID-1


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The nation’s top public health agency does not advise schools to demand shots for teachers and vaccinated children. And it does not provide guidance on how teachers can know which students have been vaccinated or how parents want to know which teachers have been vaccinated.

It is likely to create some challenging school environments, said Elizabeth Stuart, a professor of public health at John Hopkins University who has children in elementary and middle schools.

Top American disease expert says vaccinated people are spreading the delta variant.

“It would be a very strange dynamic, socially, to have some kids wearing masks and others not. And track it? Teachers shouldn’t have to keep track of which kids should wear masks,” she said.

Another potential headache: Schools must continue to accommodate children – and their desks – 3 feet apart in classrooms, the CDC says. But the agency stressed that distance should not be an obstacle to getting children back in schools. And it said no removal is required among fully vaccinated students or staff.

All of this can prove difficult to implement, which is why the CDC advises schools to make decisions that make the most sense, Sauber-Schatz said.

The biggest issues will be in middle schools, where some students are eligible for shots and others are not. If it turns out to be burdensome to sort vaccinated and non-vaccinated students, administrators might just be able to keep a masking policy in place for everyone.

“The guide is really written to allow for flexibility at the local level,” Sauber-Schatz said.

In fact, in some of the country’s largest school districts, widespread masking is expected to continue in the 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 are not imposed in Houston schools.

How about requiring COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of school attendance? This is often done across the country to prevent the spread of measles and other diseases.

The CDC has repeatedly praised such demands, but the agency did not recommend this measure on Friday because it is considered a state and local political decision, CDC officials said.

Early in the pandemic, health officials worried that schools could become coronavirus viruses that trigger community outbreaks. However, studies have shown that schools often see less transmission than the surrounding community when certain preventative measures are followed.

The new guidance is the latest revision of counseling that the CDC began providing schools last year.

In March, the CDC stopped recommending that children and their desks be placed 6 feet apart, shrinking the distance to 3 feet, and dropping its requirement for the use of plastic screens.

In May, the agency said Americans generally do not need to be so careful with masks and distance, and that fully vaccinated people do not need masks in most situations. This change was incorporated into updated guidelines for summer camps – and now schools.

The new school guide says:

—No one in the schools needs to wear masks in the recess or in most other outdoor situations. However, unvaccinated people are advised to wear masks if they are in a crowd for a long time, such as in the stands at a football match.

—Ventilation and hand washing are still important. Students and staff must also stay home when they are ill.

—Testing remains an important way to prevent outbreaks. But the CDC also says people who are fully vaccinated do not need to participate in such screening.

—Dividing students into smaller groups or cohorts remains a good way to help reduce the spread of the virus. But the CDC advised against putting vaccinated and unvaccinated children in separate groups, saying schools should not stigmatize any group or maintain academic, racial or other tracking.

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

She added: “Schools must consistently and strictly apply all of the recommended mitigation strategies, including requiring masks in all settings where unvaccinated persons are present, and ensuring adequate ventilation, hand washing and cleaning.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona promised to work with schools to help them get children back into classrooms.

“We know that personal learning provides important opportunities for all students to develop healthy, nurturing relationships with teachers and peers, and that students receive significant support in school for their social and emotional well-being, mental health and academic success,” he said in a declaration.

Binkley reported from Boston.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institutes Department of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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