The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Friday that returning to in-person learning in schools this fall is a priority and that masks should be worn indoors by all individuals ages 2 and older who are not fully vaccinated against coronavirus.
The agency also recommended that schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms to reduce transmission risk.
"When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet, such as when schools cannot fully re-open while maintaining these distances, it is especially important to layer multiple other prevention strategies, such as indoor masking," the agency advised, adding that students should not be excluded "from in-person learning to keep a minimum distance requirement."
The guidance, intended for K-12 schools, also noted that "promoting vaccination" can help facilitate that districts "safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports." Currently, only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been authorized for use in kids ages 12 and up. The companies said they plan to request for emergency use authorization in kids ages 5-11 in the fall.
The CDC stated that those who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, including while participating in extracurricular activities or while eating. However, it noted that based on the needs of the community, a school may opt to make mask use universally required regardless of vaccination status.
Exceptions should be made for people who cannot wear masks because of a disability, or those for whom wearing a mask may create a workplace safety risk.
"CDC continues to recommend masking and physical distancing as key prevention strategies," the agency stated. "However, if school administrators decide to remove any of the prevention strategies for their school based on local conditions, they should remove them one at a time and monitor closely (with adequate testing through the school and/or community) for any increases in COVID-19 cases."