The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday, July 9, updated its guidance to help reopen U.S. schools in the fall, including recommending masking indoors for everyone who is not fully vaccinated and 3 feet of distance within classrooms.
The agency said school administrators may opt to require indoor mask use even for students and educators who are vaccinated, depending on the needs of the community. Reasons would include schools with children under age 12, who are not currently authorized to receive COVID-19 vaccines, or high rates of COVID-19 transmission in the region.
The National Education Association, the largest U.S. teachers union, said the updated guidance offers a roadmap for students to return to school.
"Everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated should get their COVID-19 vaccination... Schools should be consistently and rigorously employing all the recommended mitigation strategies," NEA President Becky Pringle said in a statement.
Schools throughout the United States began to close in March of 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread, and many students were shifted to online learning at home. Critics had accused teacher unions of slowing reopenings by demanding virus mitigation practices, such as universal masking, fewer kids in classrooms and social distancing.
The American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest U.S. teachers' union, said the new CDC guidance makes sense and will help students return to the classroom.
“The guidance confirms two truths: that students learn better in the classroom, and that vaccines remain our best bet to stop the spread of this virus," AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement.
The CDC said localities should rely on local health data when deciding to relax or tighten prevention strategies, including mask wearing and physical distancing.
"Because of the importance of in-person learning, schools where not everyone is fully vaccinated should implement physical distancing to the extent possible within their structures, but should not exclude students from in-person learning to keep a minimum distance requirement," the new guidance said.
The agency said the new guidance is appropriate even with the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.
A study by the CDC released on Friday showed that half of unvaccinated adolescents and parents of unvaccinated adolescents reported being uncertain about getting a COVID-19 vaccine, or did not intend to get one at all.