ATLANTA — When schools reopen, the American Academy of Pediatrics wants to see masks on all students over the age of 2, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated, a recommendation likely to reignite mask wars in area school districts.
The updated guidelines released Monday by the nation’s professional organization for pediatricians surpass those of the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On July 9, the CDC said students and teachers who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 will not be required to wear masks in schools in the fall.
But the American Academy of Pediatrics’ call for “a layered approach” to school safety begins with a recommendation that everyone over age 2 wear masks, regardless of vaccination status. The group also encourages eligible children to be vaccinated against COVID and reiterates CDC recommendations around ventilation, testing, quarantine, and building cleaning and disinfection.
“We need to prioritize getting kids back to school along with their friends and their teachers — and we all have a role to play in making sure this is done safely,” said Dr. Sonja O’Leary, chair of the AAP Council on School Health, said in a statement. “The pandemic has taken a heartbreaking toll on children, and it has not only been their education that has suffered, but their mental, emotional and physical health as well. The combination of layers of protection, including vaccinations, masks and clean hand hygiene, makes personal learning safe and possible for everyone.”
“There are many children and others who cannot be vaccinated,” said Dr. Sara Bode, elected chair of the Executive Committee of the AAP Council on School Health. “That’s why it’s important to use every tool in our toolkit to protect children from COVID-19. Universal masking is one of those tools and has also been shown to be effective in protecting people from other respiratory illnesses. most effective strategy to create consistent messages and expectations among students without the added burden of checking everyone’s vaccination status.”
DeKalb and Clayton schools will require masks for students and staff regardless of vaccination status. Atlanta Public Schools is still deciding. Fulton, Gwinnett, Marietta and Cobb made masks optional for students and staff in the fall, prompting concerned parents.
The American Academy of Pediatrics-Georgia Chapter plans to follow up on the national organization’s actions with a letter calling on Georgia school principals to heed the mask’s recommendation.
That may not be an easy sell.
A Fulton parent who is a nurse sent an email to Chief Inspector Mike Looney on Monday urging the district to demand masks. The parent told Looney: “I have never been more concerned about my child’s safety than I am now. While I know this is very exhausting and causes problems for many parents, their safety should be the top priority.”
The parent quoted the CDC guidelines on masks for unvaccinated students, prompting a startling response from Looney: “While I appreciate the CDC’s recommendations, the truth is that their credibility has been tarnished in the past year and I don’t feel I’m more comfortable following all their guidance, but now consider our local data and experiences in the decision-making process.”
I contacted Fulton Schools about the inspector’s criticism of the CDC and was told Looney may have additional comment tomorrow.
In the meantime, Fulton spokesman Brian Noyes said: “I can definitively say that we are still considering CDC recommendations. However, as Looney indicated in his email, which he stands behind, he relies on local data, FCBOH and experience while making decisions.”
The AAP recommends universal masking in school for these reasons:
— A significant part of the student population is not eligible for vaccination
— Protecting unvaccinated students from COVID-19 and to reduce transmission
— A lack of a system to monitor vaccine status among students, teachers and staff
— Potential difficulties in monitoring or enforcing mask policies for those who have not been vaccinated; in the absence of schools that can do this monitoring, universal masking is the best and most effective strategy to create consistent messages, expectations, enforcement and compliance without the added burden of monitoring vaccination status
— Possibility of low vaccination coverage within the surrounding school community
— Persistent concerns about variants that are more easily spread among children, adolescents and adults
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