CORONAVIRUS

What are the new CDC mask guidelines for schools?

Teachers, students and school staff will be required to wear a mask while indoors, but still intend to return to in-person learning from the fall.

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What are the new CDC mask guidelines for schools?
Michael loccisano AFP

On Tuesday the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevented updated its masking guidance to advise that even vaccinated people should wear masks indoors in certain areas of the country. The change comes in response to the rapid spread of the Delta variant of covid-19, which is now thought to account for around 83% of new cases.

CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky made the announcement, saying: "In recent days I have seen new scientific data from recent outbreak investigations showing that that Delta variant behaves uniquely differently from past strains of the virus that cause covid-19.”

The new guidance recommends that local authorities encourage indoor mask-wearing for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated.

Schools set to reopen in the fall

Throughout the pandemic the subject of school closures has been extremely divisive and school districts have largely been allowed to adapt to the new situation as they see fit. Virtual learning has been a necessary alternative for many over the past 18 months but there is concern that children are not receiving the best education that well, as well as burdening parents with around-the-clock childcare responsibilities.

As such the reopening of schools is seen as a vital step on the road to economic recovery and there are hopes that this will be possible in the fall. Almost all school districts across the United States are planning to return to in-person teaching after the summer break. However even that varies; some schools will give parents the choice to continue remote learning, while some will remove that option entirely.

Dr Richard E. Besser, a former acting director of the CDC, said that the decision to reopen schools was “a big moment.”

He added: “It’s also a recognition that there are real costs to keeping children at home, to keeping them out of school, that school is so important in terms of children’s socialization and development and it provides other supports as well.”

CDC makes changes to mask-wearing advice

It is roughly two months since President Biden gleefully declared it a “great day in America” when the CDC loosened the guidelines for vaccinated Americans. Mask-wearing has become a key part of the national effort to prevent infections and defeat the pandemic and the threat of the Delta variant has left experts concerned.

Walensky said of the move to reverse their earlier decision: "This weighs heavily on me. I know that at 18 months through this pandemic, not only are people tired, they're frustrated.”

The advice for unvaccinated people remains the same and they are still expected to mask up whenever inside in a public place, or around those who do not live in the same household.