Experts largely agree that schools should open to in-person learning this fall, but there’s disagreement on masking policies.
The CDC recommends, “Masks should be worn indoors by all individuals (age 2 and older) who are not fully vaccinated.”
However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently called for all children over the age of 2 to wear masks at school, regardless of vaccine status, “unless medical or developmental conditions prohibit use.”
Sonja O'Leary is the chair of that organization’s school health council. She said her organization agrees with a lot of the CDC recommendations, but also notes that kids under 12 won’t be eligible for the vaccine and vaccine rates among older kids are still lower than they’d like to see.
“Because of all this, and because of the variants that are out there, we felt that at least starting the school year fully masked will help at least start a more normal school year for kids,” she said.
The Academy also said that it would be challenging to enforce mask policies if they aren’t universal.
“We always hope at the end of the day that people are going to do the right thing, but it would be hard to police and enforce and maintain because just like everybody else, kids are probably sick of wearing masks as well,” O'Leary said. “It’s almost easier to say, let's just get everyone masked.”
That way, they won’t have to monitor every student’s vaccine status or depend on the honor system.
O’Leary said schools weren’t a major source for spreading the virus last year, but many kids were also wearing masks when in person.
Schools will also have to revisit their illness and quarantine policies, which O’Leary said will be a major challenge, too. She said universal masks might help with that.
“It’s going to be really hard on the schools to be in charge of figuring out who’s vaccinated, who’s not vaccinated, who can quarantine, who doesn’t have to,” she said. “When really what they want to do is get kids back on track.”
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.