The American Academy of Pediatrics released updated guidance for schools Monday, recommending that all students over 2 years old, along with staff, wear masks, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
The new AAP guidance comes less than two weeks after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its own recommendations, calling for indoor mask-wearing for unvaccinated students ages 2 and up, as well as staff. (Children under 12 are not yet eligible for vaccination.) The CDC notes, however, that schools might find universal masking necessary in areas with low vaccination rates, increasing community transmission or a number of other factors.
Both sets of guidance focus on getting students back into classrooms.
"Given what we know about low rates of in-school transmission when proper prevention measures are used, together with the availability of effective vaccines for those age 12 years and up," the AAP says, "the benefits of in-person school outweigh the risks in almost all circumstances."
Despite these recommendations, many schools won't be able to require masks for the coming school year. South Carolina, for example, has prohibited districts from mandating masks for students or staff. In Texas, districts can't require anyone, including parents and other visitors, to wear masks. Meanwhile, other states are requiring the opposite: In Washington, schools must mandate masks or face coverings indoors regardless of vaccination status.
In its guidance, the AAP says it recommends universal masking because enforcing masking only for unvaccinated students, as well as tracking the vaccination status of students and staff, might be difficult for schools to do. The organization also notes that mask-wearing protects unvaccinated individuals and could reduce transmission of other respiratory illnesses that tend to keep students and staff home sick. The guidance provides exceptions for students and staff with developmental or medical conditions that make mask-wearing difficult.
The AAP's guidelines note that all eligible individuals should get vaccinated and that "it may become necessary for schools to collect COVID-19 vaccine information of staff and students and for schools to require COVID-19 vaccination for in-person learning."
As of Sunday, 38% of 16- to 17-year-olds were fully vaccinated, according to CDC data, and 26% of 12- to 15-year-olds were.
The AAP's recommendations come as COVID-19 cases rise across the U.S. in what the head of the CDC has called a "pandemic of the unvaccinated."