NEXSTAR — Everyone over the age of 2 should wear a face mask inside schools – regardless of vaccination status, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended.
The group said it’s because “a significant portion” of the student population is not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccines, in new guidance that came out on Monday. It would also be difficult for schools to track the vaccination status when they have different rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated students, AAP added.
“We are recommending universal masking for all kids and all teachers when they go back to the classroom,” said Dr. Alison Tothy, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago and president of the Illinois chapter of AAP. She says the academy’s new guidance is meant to keep children as safe as possible.
“We know more now than we did a month ago and a month before that and we know that we have a lot of kids that are at risk for getting sick and even for being asymptomatic and transmitting covid and were trying to prevent both the illness and the transmission,” she added.
At this time, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is only authorized for emergency use for children as young as 12 years old.
“Universal masking is the best and most effective strategy to create consistent messages, expectations, enforcement, and compliance without the added burden of needing to monitor vaccination status,” AAP said.
The group also includes concern for the more-contagious delta variant as a reason for everyone to wear masks in schools, regardless of vaccination status.
The CDC recently released a report of a COVID-19 delta variant outbreak at an Oklahoma gymnastics facility, in which 17 of the 47 people who tested positive were fully vaccinated. The age range of people infected was 5 years old to 58 years old, and included 23 gymnasts, three staff members, and 21 of their household contacts.
This report gives insight into how the delta variant can spread among fully vaccinated people when they are around unvaccinated people. The CDC, however, has called the recent uptick in cases a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.“
While breakthrough cases have been documented, hospitalizations and deaths linked to COVID-19 and the delta variant are almost all in unvaccinated people.
The AAP encourages several safety protocols layered up with universal masking when schools resume, such as vaccination, proper ventilation, testing, quarantining, and cleaning and disinfecting. The AAP is also urging all eligible people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Overall, the group believes it’s best to make schools in-person as safe as possible, so that the majority of students could be physically present for classes.
The CDC’s K-12 guidance has only emphasized mask wearing for those who are not fully vaccinated, as well as keeping unvaccinated students at a 3 ft distance.
The discrepancy has some school districts trying to figure out what to do come fall.
“I really wish I had the answer to that. That’s really the most difficult, difficult question,” said Dr. Paul Hertel, superintendent with Des Plaines School District 62. “Our staff had the opportunity not to but from what I can tell our staff is modeling, showing the students that they’re in masks as well.”
He says the solution may not be one-size-fits-all.
“It could work in some buildings where they don’t really need to wear masks and that’s fine,” Dr. Hertel says, “and others, they need more mitigations in place.”