Previously, the CDC updated its Covid-19 guidance for schools earlier this month, noting that fully vaccinated people did not have to wear masks, and then about a week later the American Academy of Pediatrics issued stricter guidance recommending that everyone older than 2 wear a mask in schools, regardless of their vaccination status.
Now, the agency is updating its mask guidance overall, recommending that fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors when in areas with “substantial” and “high” transmission of Covid-19, which includes more than half of all US counties.
Nearly half — 46% — of US counties currently have high transmission and 17% have “substantial” transmission, according to data from the CDC, as of Tuesday morning.
The nation’s three largest school districts — New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago — already require masks in schools. Among the top 12 districts in the country, all are requiring masks except those in Florida and Texas, where the governors have banned mask mandates in schools, prior to Tuesday’s updated CDC guidance.
Before the updated CDC guidance, at least 14 of the 30 largest US school districts overall are making masks optional for students in school, while another 13 are requiring masks. As of last week, three districts were undecided. School districts have indicated they may change their guidance according to local public health conditions even after the school year starts.
Caitlin Rivers, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Health Security, told CNN in an email on Tuesday that she thinks the updated CDC guidance will be enough to encourage some schools to issue mask mandates.
“School districts look to CDC for guidance so having clear recommendations will make it easier for them to set masking policies,” Rivers wrote in the email.
“I encourage indoor masking for children too young to be vaccinated,” she added. “The delta variant spreads very easily, and classrooms are high risk environments without protective measures. Children are at much lower risk of severe illness than adults, but they can and do get infected and transmit the virus to others.”
Overall, it’s “reassuring” that the CDC is updating its guidance given that the Delta variant has been shown to be more contagious, Dr. Vivek Cherian, an internal medicine physician affiliated with the University of Maryland Medical System, told CNN in an email on Tuesday. He called the updated guidance for schools “the best and safest course of action” to protect children at this time.
“On a personal note, we are in the process of moving to Chicago and are basing our decision on school selection based off of their approach to mask mandate because it is that critical to offer our children the greatest advantage of staying safe,” Cherian said about his own family.
“There is no question that the updated recommendations will encourage some schools (if not most) to issue or reissue mask mandates. Many schools are implementing guidance based on the CDC recommendations in general,” Cherian wrote. “I would consider it reckless on the part of schools to not move forward in updating mask mandates given that the Delta variant is now the predominant strain in the country, and given that a large population of the K-12 population is still unvaccinated.”