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Pediatrician Group Recommends Mask Use in School Regardless of Vaccination Status

Masked students wait in a socially distanced single file line

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Update

The CDC on July 27 echoed the AAP's recommendation of universal masking and asked all students, teachers, and staff in K-12 schools to wear masks regardless of their vaccination status.

Key Takeaways

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics released new COVID-19 guidance to encourage universal mask use in schools.
  • AAP recommends all students above the age of two wear a mask regardless of vaccination status, and encourages vaccination for all over 12 years old.
  • The guidance is more cautious that the recommendations for children published by the CDC earlier this month.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on Monday released new COVID-19 guidance for schools, recommending all students over the age of 2 wear masks regardless of their vaccination status.

To ensure safety for students and staff, the organization recommends taking a “layered approach,” which includes vaccination for students aged 12 and above, universal mask use, ventilation, testing, and more.

“We need to prioritize getting children back into schools alongside their friends and their teachers – and we all play a role in making sure it happens safely,” Sonja O’Leary, MD, FAAP, chair of the AAP Council on School Health, said in a statement.

The AAP says schools should take the additional step of requiring mask use because a large portion of school-aged children are not yet eligible for vaccination and remain more vulnerable to infection. Unless schools find a way to monitor vaccination status, universal masking is the most trusted to way to keep the community safe, the group suggests.

What This Means For You

For adolescents age 12 and above, vaccination remains the best tool to protect them against illness and transmission of COVID-19. Masks are also proven to be effective at limiting transmission. Look to your state’s and county’s public health departments for information on whether schools in your area will mandate mask use.

Taking a Layered Approach

The AAP guidance is a departure from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which said this month that vaccinated students need not wear masks in classrooms or outside. The CDC still recommended unvaccinated students to wear masks indoors.

Both groups encourage schools to create a holistic plan for preventing viral spread, which includes improved ventilation, cleaning, and disinfection.

“As with any battle, a multiple defense approach is the way to go,” David Edwards, PhD, professor of biomedical engineering at Harvard University and founder of FEND, tells Verywell. “Vaccination is an obvious and a key part of the protection that we need to lean into.”

With the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, Edwards says policies that encourage mask wearing and prioritize vaccinations will be important in protecting children.

Only 36% of adolescents aged 12 to 17 have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine as of Monday, The Washington Post data shows. Children under 12 years old are not yet eligible for the vaccines, though an FDA emergency authorization for vaccinations in this group could come this winter, NBC reported.

In the meantime, AAP says that encouraging mask use in school will add a layer of protection for unvaccinated students. Plus, face coverings may reduce the spread of other respiratory illnesses when children congregate in-person again.

Research shows that when masking and other safety measures are practiced, in-person schooling does not significantly increase community transmission, according to the AAP.

The AAP also advocates for strong mental health support for students who may struggle with the transition to in-person learning after a year of intense change and remote schooling.

“Families rely on schools to provide a safe, stimulating, and enriching space for children to learn; appropriate supervision of children; opportunities for socialization; and access to school-based mental, physical, and nutritional health services,” the APP guidance says.

The organization also calls for adequate and accessible COVID-19 testing resources and urges parents to ensure their children are caught up on their vaccinations to avoid outbreaks of other vaccine-preventable diseases.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools. Updated July 9, 2021.