The American Academy of Pediatrics issued new Covid-19 guidelines for schools on Monday, recommending that everyone over age 2 wear masks this fall, even if they have been vaccinated. Exceptions may be made for those with medical or developmental conditions that complicate mask wearing, the group said.
The universal masking recommendation is a departure from the guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this month, which recommends masking in schools only for unvaccinated people over age 2. Those guidelines heavily implied that fully vaccinated children and adults would not need to wear masks in the classroom — although they also said that individual schools were free to implement universal mask mandates.
In many other ways, however, the two sets of guidelines are similar. The A.A.P., like the C.D.C., emphasized the importance of returning to in-person learning.
“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,” Dr. Sonja O’Leary, the chair of the A.A.P. Council on School Health, said in a statement.
Like the C.D.C., the A.A.P. recommended a “layered” approach that combines a variety of measures to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission. In addition to universal masking, those measures include vaccination, improved ventilation, virus testing, quarantines, and cleaning and disinfection, the group said.
The A.A.P. laid out several reasons for its universal masking recommendation.
Many students are too young to be eligible for the vaccines, which are authorized only for those ages 12 and older, the group noted. And universal masking could reduce overall transmission of the virus, helping to protect those who are unvaccinated.
The group also cited concerns about more transmissible virus variants and the possibility that vaccination rates could be low in the surrounding community, which could raise the risk of an outbreak at a particular school. The A.A.P. recommended universal masking also because it may be difficult to verify whether individual students or staff members have been vaccinated.
Some state and local officials have already announced that they will not require universal masking in the fall, and at least eight states have banned such mandates.
The A.A.P. guidance stopped short of outright recommending vaccine mandates, but said that they may ultimately be needed. “It may become necessary for schools to collect Covid-19 vaccine information of staff and students and for schools to require Covid-19 vaccination for in-person learning,” the guidelines said.