CDC updates COVID-19 school rules: In-person learning, vaccines & masks

New CDC schools guidance pushes in-person learning as K-12 classrooms prepare for the fall 2021 return, though masks will remain a key part of the COVID-19 strategy. The US Centers for Disease Control has been criticized in the past for its policies around classroom learning, blamed on one side for impractically strict guidance, while accused of pushing for premature in-person schooling too rapidly by others.

The balance has been confounded by uncertainties around just how susceptible to coronavirus younger people might actually be. Although the research has demonstrated that children can catch COVID-19 and indeed be hospitalized because of it, rates are generally lower than for adults and adolescents.

However, that doesn't mean those children aren't necessarily infectious, leading to concerns that contact with teachers, teaching assistants, and others might cause a surge in community spread. Factor in that it's only recently that select vaccines have been authorized for immunizations among younger people, and it's no surprise that a shift back from forced home-schooling has been contentious.

Today, the CDC revealed new guidance for COVID-19 prevention in kindergarten schools. Every person who is eligible – which currently means individuals aged 12 or above – should be vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pointed out. It concedes, though, that there'll still be a mixture of vaccinated and unvaccinated people present.

As such, those teachers, students, and other staff who have been fully vaccinated need not wear a mask, the CDC says. Anybody unvaccinated, for whatever reason, should continue wearing masks.

"Masks should be worn indoors by all individuals (age 2 and older) who are not fully vaccinated," the CDC said today. "Consistent and correct mask use by people who are not fully vaccinated is especially important indoors and in crowded settings, when physical distancing cannot be maintained."

Some of the more controversial recommendations remain in place. The CDC says that schools should try to keep at least 3 feet of physical distance between students when in classrooms, regardless of their vaccination status. Schools that can't guarantee that should consider continuing with indoor masking policies.

While the CDC guidance covers the whole US, the agency acknowledges that local trends should also shape school policies. "Localities should monitor community transmission, vaccination coverage, screening testing, and occurrence of outbreaks to guide decisions on the level of layered prevention strategies (e.g., physical distancing, screening testing)," the CDC points out.

Still, one of the big takeaways is the importance that the CDC is placing now on in-person learning. "Students benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction in the fall 2021 is a priority," the CDC insists. That holds true "regardless of whether all of the prevention strategies can be implemented at the school."