CDC relaxes school mask guidelines

Students and parents protest mask requirements a May 11 West Ada school board meeting. Nik Streng/Idaho EdNews

The Centers for Disease Control is no longer recommending face masks for fully vaccinated school teachers and students.

The CDC released updated back-to-school guidelines Friday. Here are a few talking points:

  • In-person instruction: “Students benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction in the fall 2021 is a priority.”
  • Vaccinations: “Promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports.”
  • Masks: “Masks should be worn indoors by all individuals (age 2 and older) who are not fully vaccinated. 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.”
  • Social distancing: “CDC recommends schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms, combined with indoor mask wearing by people who are not fully vaccinated, to reduce transmission risk.”

The new CDC guidelines come as Idaho school boards debate their local mask policies, and as student vaccination numbers sputter.

Several large school districts — including West Ada, Nampa, Caldwell, Idaho Falls and Pocatello-Chubbuck — have decided to make mask usage optional. The Boise School District required masks through the 2020-21 school year.

The COVID-19 vaccine is available to anyone 12 years old and older. But only 13 percent of Idaho’s 12- to 15- year-olds are fully vaccinated, and 24 percent of 16- or 17-year-olds are fully vaccinated.

Overall, 44 percent of Idahoans are fully vaccinated.

The CDC’s guidelines also coincide with a surge of the delta variant — a coronavirus strain that is believed to be more easily spread than the original version of the coronavirus. Research indicates that vaccines provide effective protection against the new strain, but some health officials fear the delta variant could spread quickly in schools and among unvaccinated children. (Click here to read more about the delta variant, and its implications for the 2021-22 school year in Idaho.)

Click here for more details on the CDC guidelines, from Chalkbeat.




Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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