COVID-19 Education Policy

CDC Updates Return-to-School Guidance: Let Kids Come — with Masks

Today, the Centers for Disease Control issued new guidance for K–12 schools, calling for indoor masking and physical distancing for everybody, whether or not they've been vaccinated.

The guidance is in response to the highly contagious Delta variant, which is hitting people aged 50 and under with greater virulence than earlier variants. According to CDC numbers, while those who are 18 to 29 years old have the highest incidence of cases per 100,000 people (122), infection among younger age groups exceeds the per-capita rates of people older than 65. In the age 5 to 11 grouping, the per-capita rate is 65; for 12 to 15, it's 73; and for 16-17, it's 91; for those 65 to 74 year, it's 44.

The CDC update stated that a return to in-person instruction for fall 2021 was "a priority." But since those under age 12 aren't yet eligible for vaccinations, schools are advised to take a "layered" approach:

  • Indoor masking for all;

  • Maintaining three feet of physical distance between students in the classroom;

  • Following handwashing and respiratory etiquette;

  • Having proper ventilation; and

  • Encouraging families to keep sick children at home and to get them tested;

Earlier this week, the CDC also recommended that those who are vaccinated get tested for COVID-19 within three to five days after a known exposure to anybody else who has or is suspected of having COVID-19.

At least two states — Florida and Texas — have issued executive orders banning mask mandates, including in schools. Florida has seen an increase of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the state, with the Miami-Herald reporting that "more Florida children were hospitalized with COVID-19...than in any other state." According to an analysis by the newspaper, the most dramatic increase over the last month has been among kids under 12. On June 29, 2021, the weekly average for new cases in Florida for children under 12 was 205; by the end of July it was 1,544. Texas exceeded Florida's youngest COVID-19 hospitalized patients, with 142 children hospitalized compared to Florida's 135.

As of August 4, 2021, nationwide, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 51% of 16- to 17-year-olds and 40% of 12- to 15-year-olds had received at least a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 41% of the 16- to 17-year-olds and 29% of 12- to 15-year-olds had been fully vaccinated.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.