The American Academy of Pediatrics updated its guidance for the upcoming school year on Monday, now recommending that anyone above the age of 2 wear masks inside schools to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, "regardless of vaccination status."
The decision comes as COVID-19 cases are climbing across the U.S. due to the highly transmissible Delta variant.
"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, the chair of the AAP Council on School Health, said in a statement. "The pandemic has taken a heartbreaking toll on children, and it’s not just their education that has suffered but their mental, emotional and physical health.
"Combining layers of protection that include vaccinations, masking and clean hands hygiene will make in-person learning safe and possible for everyone," she added.
The AAP says its new guidance regarding wearing masks in schools applies to students, teachers and staff.
It said it recommended universal masking "because a significant portion of the student population is not yet eligible for vaccines, and masking is proven to reduce transmission of the virus and to protect those who are not vaccinated."
"Many schools will not have a system to monitor vaccine status of students, teachers and staff, and some communities overall have low vaccination uptake where the virus may be circulating more prominently," it added.
Amongst other recommendations, the AAP is advising that "adequate and timely COVID-19 testing resources must be available and accessible" and that "strategies should be revised and adapted depending on the level of viral transmission and test positivity rate throughout the community and schools."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in its own guidance issued earlier this month, says it "recommends schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms, combined with indoor mask wearing by people who are not fully vaccinated, to reduce transmission risk."