the staff of the Ridgewood blog
Ridgewood NJ, On July 9 the US CDC released updated guidance for COVID-19 prevention in K-12 schools, prioritizing a return to in-person learning for students this fall and highlighting the importance of vaccinating as many eligible children as possible. So far, 1 in 3 adolescents ages 12 to 17 have been vaccinated, a number experts are hoping will increase over the coming months. Overall, the CDC recommends school districts tailor their recommendations to local laws and epidemiological situations, tightening or relaxing layered prevention strategies such as mask wearing and physical distancing based on local transmission rates. Some experts criticized the agency for leaving so many decisions up to local officials, saying more specific guidance would be helpful. Others, including officials with the country’s two major teachers’ unions, praised the guidance, calling it “grounded in both science and common sense.” With nearly all of the nation’s school districts set to open this fall, the CDC updated its guidance based on progress in the national vaccination campaign.
In alignment with its national recommendations for the general public, the CDC said masking could be optional for vaccinated students and school staff but unvaccinated students ages 2 and older and staff should use masks when indoors, especially when physical distancing cannot be maintained. Masks are not needed for outdoor activities such as recess or extracurricular activities, unless people are in a crowded situation, such as in the stands at a football game. The recommendation for physical distancing for students was decreased from 6 feet to 3 feet. The guidance notes that if distancing inhibits in-person learning, layering multiple other prevention strategies can be substituted. All school staff should maintain a 6-foot distance from students when possible. If the number of cases in a community begins to rise, if vaccination rates are low, or if schools cannot determine who has been vaccinated, school districts could opt for universal masking if local and state laws allow.
The CDC encouraged schools to promote vaccination among students and staff, including offering vaccinations on-site, providing sick leave for employees to get vaccinated, and excusing student absences for vaccinations. In addition, the agency said schools should support those who want to wear masks even if they are vaccinated. Schools should also consider layering other prevention strategies, including regular screening testing, improving ventilation, promoting good hand hygiene, staying home when sick, contact tracing with isolation or quarantine, and cleaning and disinfection. Cohorting, or keeping students and staff in small groups throughout the day, might be useful in some cases to limit contact, but the practice should not replace other prevention strategies nor mix vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, the agency said. The CDC also released updated guidance for early care and education and childcare programs. With the more transmissible Delta variant now dominant in the US, it remains to be seen how local jurisdictions will enforce the CDC’s guidance in areas of low vaccination coverage, where cases and hospitalizations are already rising.