CDC releases updated school guidance

Students involved in the 2021 Saugus Union School District STEAM Summer Camp participate in activities that administrators say are fun ways to reengage them with on-campus learning. Photo courtesy of SUSD.

Students and teachers will still be required to wear masks when returning to school this fall, the California Department of Public Health announced Friday, despite the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new guidelines saying face coverings aren’t necessary if certain precautions are taken.

The CDC’s updated kindergarten-through-12th-grade school guidance highlights mitigation strategies for schools to safely achieve full in-person instruction — a priority for fall 2021, per the CDC release — stating those who are fully vaccinated don’t need to wear masks but should continue to physically distance.

“When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet, such as when schools cannot fully reopen while maintaining these distances, it is especially important to layer multiple other prevention strategies, such as indoor masking,” the CDC stated.

California followed the announcement with one of its own, opting for a more cautious approach by aligning with the CDC’s guidance on most safety strategies, such as continuing its free testing program in every school, yet continuing to require masks be worn by all indoors in school settings.

State health officials said the decision is due to the fact that many of California’s school facilities can’t accommodate the 3-foot physical distancing recommended by the CDC to return to full-time in-person learning, with the requirement set to ensure all students are treated the same, whether they’re vaccinated or not.

“Masking is a simple and effective intervention that does not interfere with offering full in-person instruction,” California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said in a prepared statement. “At the outset of the new year, students should be able to walk into school without worrying about whether they will feel different or singled out for being vaccinated or unvaccinated — treating all kids the same will support a calm and supportive school environment.”

Masks will at least be required for the start of the school year, with state guidelines set to evolve based on science, data collection, and the prevalence of the virus and its more dangerous variants, Ghaly added.

Los Angeles County has urged all residents to wear masks indoors in public as COVID-19 case rates and spread of the Delta variant increased.  

On Friday and through the weekend, L.A. County Department of Public Health officials reported more than 1,000 daily COVID-19 cases, nearly double that reported the week prior.

Both state and local public health officials continue to encourage residents to get vaccinated, with children as young as 12 now eligible to receive the vaccine, while younger children may be able to do so by the end of the year.

The California Teachers Association was supportive of the state’s guidelines, with union spokesperson Lisa Gardiner stating, “We know this pandemic is not over, but due to the availability of vaccines and multiple safety measures put into place and practice, as well as the roadmap provided by science-based guidance, school communities are in a good position to ensure safe-in person instruction for students this fall. As CTA has said all along, learning happens best in-person and educators want to be with their students in classrooms.”

County Public Health officials have not yet said whether they plan to align guidelines with the state, who plan to release detailed guidance for schools this week.

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