On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics released new Covid-19 school guidelines that support in-person learning and recommends universal masking in school for everyone over the age of two, regardless of vaccination status — a more stringent position than the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took earlier this month.
The guidelines say, “The AAP believes that, at this point in the pandemic, 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, that the benefits of an in-person school outweigh the risks in all circumstances.”
The AAP recommends that all students above the age of two and all school employees wear masks at school unless they have a medical or developmental issue that prevents them from doing so.
A significant proportion of the student population is not yet eligible for vaccination; masking protects those who are not vaccinated against Covid-19 and reduces transmission, and potential difficulty in monitoring or enforcing mask policies for those who are not vaccinated are reasons for this recommendation.
The AAP’s suggestion on universal masking differs from the CDC’s advice, which stated that fully vaccinated kids, teachers, and staff do not need to wear masks at school and that in-person learning should be prioritized.
“There are many children and others who cannot be vaccinated,” Dr. Sara Bode, chair-elect of the AAP Council on School Health Executive Committee, said in a statement.”This is why it’s important to use every tool in our toolkit to safeguard children from COVID-19. Universal masking is one of those tools and has been proven effective in protecting people against other respiratory diseases. It’s also the most effective strategy to create consistent messages and expectations among students without the added burden of needing to monitor everyone’s vaccination status.”
The AAP added in a statement that it “amplifies” the CDC’s other guidelines on ventilation, testing, quarantining, cleaning, and disinfection.
They also suggested that all eligible individuals be vaccinated, that adequate and timely testing tools be accessible, and that created strategies can be revised and adapted based on community conditions.
“With the above principles in mind, the AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for school COVID-19 plans should start with a goal of keeping students safe and physically present in school,” the guidelines say. “The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in 2020.”
The debate on campus concerning masking and other Covid-19 precautions comes just weeks before several Southern institutions reopen for the school year.
When Covid-19 first arrived in the United States last spring, most schools stopped teaching in-person and switched to online instruction. On the other hand, remote learning has exposed educational inequities, hindered education for students of all ages, and intensified a mental health crisis among children and adolescents.
“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,” said Sonja O’Leary, chair of the AAP Council on School Health. “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.”