All school staff and students over the age of 2 should wear masks when they return to school this fall, regardless of their immunization status, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
The new guidelines released on Monday are stricter than what the CDC is currently asking: “Based on studies from the 2020-2021 school year, the CDC recommends that schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students in classrooms, combined with the wearing of an indoor mask by people who are not fully immunized, to reduce the risk of transmission, ”according to the CDC website.
In an interview with CNNAnthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, acknowledged that the differences between the AAP and CDC guidelines could be confusing. But he pointed out that “When you have a certain degree of viral momentum in the community and a substantial proportion of the population is unvaccinated, you really want to go that extra step, that extra effort … I think that the [AAP is] a thoughtful group. They analyze the situation, and if they think that’s the way to go, I think it’s a reasonable thing to do. “
The AAP based its advice on the proven effectiveness of the masks in reducing transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and protecting the unvaccinated, a press release noted. The academy also urged all “eligible people” to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We need to make it a priority for kids to get back to school alongside their friends and teachers – and we all play a role in making sure it’s safe,” said Sonja O’Leary, MD. , Chair of the AAP Council on School Health, in a statement.
The AAP stressed that opening schools for in-person learning “generally does not significantly increase community transmission,” particularly when schools implement preventive guidelines issued by the CDC, which address ventilation, testing and quarantine of buildings, as well as cleaning and disinfection.
To date, vaccines have only been authorized for children aged 12 and over, so a “significant portion” of students will not be eligible to be vaccinated before returning to school, according to the press release.
“That’s why it’s important to use every tool in our toolkit to protect children from COVID-19,” said Sara Bode, MD, chair-elect of the AAP Council on Health Executive Committee at school. “Universal masking is one such tool and has been shown to be effective in protecting people from other respiratory illnesses. It is also the most effective strategy for creating consistent messages and expectations among students without having to monitor individual immunization status. . “
There are also individuals who have chosen not to be vaccinated, and communities with low vaccination rates may see higher rates of circulating virus, the AAP noted. In addition, emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2 may increase the risk of transmission and worsen the disease.
The AAP supports universal masking for all of these reasons, they said. The academy also urged school staff to take action to protect children and teachers ahead of the 2020-2021 school year with the following:
- Prepare to meet the potential mental health needs of children
- Provide “adequate and timely” COVID-19 testing resources
- Ensure that school strategies can adapt to changes in the community, such as levels of viral transmission and test positivity rates
- Implement school policies that respond to new information about the pandemic
The AAP specifically emphasized that administrators should “fine-tune approaches when specific policies don’t work,” and underscored the need for continued federal, state and local funding for schools to implement measures to COVID-19 mitigation.
Finally, the AAP recommended that school districts communicate and coordinate with national and local public health authorities, school nurses, pediatric providers, and other medical experts. He also encouraged families to keep abreast of any vaccinations they may have missed during the pandemic, including the flu shot.
“The last thing we want out of this pandemic is an outbreak of another vaccine-preventable disease,” O’Leary said.