NEW YORK (AP) — Vaccinated teachers and students don’t need to wear masks inside school buildings, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Friday in relaxing its COVID-19 guidelines.
The changes come amid a national vaccination campaign in which children as young as 12 are eligible to get shots, as well as a general decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.
“We’re at a new point in the pandemic that we’re all really excited about,” and so it’s time to update the guidance, said Erin Sauber-Schatz, who leads the CDC task force that prepares recommendations designed to keep Americans safe from COVID-19.
The nation’s top public health agency is not advising schools to require shots for teachers and vaccine-eligible kids. And it’s not offering guidance on how teachers can know which students are vaccinated or how parents will know which teachers are immunized.
All of this may prove hard to implement, and that’s why CDC is advising schools to make decisions that make the most sense, Sauber-Schatz said.
Early in the pandemic, health officials worried schools might become coronavirus cauldrons that spark community outbreaks. But studies have shown that schools often see less transmission than the surrounding community when certain prevention measures are followed.
The new guidance is the latest revision to advise the CDC began making to schools last year.
In March, the CDC stopped recommending that children and their desks be spaced 6 feet apart, shrinking the distance to 3 feet and dropped its call for use of plastic shields.
In May, the agency said Americans, in general, don’t have to be as cautious about masks and distancing outdoors, and that fully vaccinated people don’t need masks in most situations. That change was incorporated into updated guidance for summer camps — and now, schools.
The new schools’ guidance says:
—No one at schools needs to wear masks at recess or in most other outdoor situations. However, unvaccinated people are advised to wear masks if they are in a crowd for an extended period of time, like in the stands at a football game.
—Ventilation and handwashing continue to be important. Students and staff also should stay home when they are sick.
—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.
—Separating students into smaller groups, or cohorts, continues to be a good way to help reduce spread of the virus. But the CDC discouraged putting vaccinated and unvaccinated kids in separate groups, saying schools shouldn’t stigmatize any group or perpetuate academic, racial or other tracking.