The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools on Friday, July 9. DESE and the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) officials have reviewed the new information and will share updated state level guidance as soon as possible.
In the revised guidance, CDC emphasizes the following, among other important updates: Students benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction in the fall 2021 is a priority. Vaccination is currently the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Promoting vaccination for eligible students and staff members can help schools safely return to in-person learning, as well as extracurricular activities and sports.
School mask guidance is now aligned with general CDC masking guidance for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. 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 areas when physical distancing cannot be maintained. In general, people do not need to wear masks outside.
Other updates in the guidance include: Physical distancing: CDC continues to recommend at least 3 feet of physical distancing in classrooms but specifies areas where more distance might be warranted. The guidance emphasizes that physical distancing shouldn’t be a restriction on access to in-person learning. Layered mitigation strategies: CDC does not recommending removing any mitigation strategies, especially in schools where most children are not eligible for the vaccine. For schools that are considering removing a prevention strategy, CDC urges schools to remove them one at a time and to monitor how that affects transmission. CDC did not recommend a specific time benchmark between removing strategies but noted that it can take 14 days for those infected with COVID-19 to show symptoms. Quarantine and contact tracing: CDC has revised this guidance for school settings consistent with other guidance. Those who are fully vaccinated do not need to quarantine. For those who are not fully vaccinated, if both people are correctly wearing masks throughout the entire encounter, and are 3-6 feet apart, that is not a close contact and they do not need to quarantine. School buses and transportation: The CDC order requiring masks on public transportation (even for those individuals who are fully vaccinated) is still in effect and continues to apply to school buses. Children do not need to maintain physical distancing if other mitigation strategies are in use, including wearing masks and opening windows, on buses. Food service: Updated research shows the virus is not transmitted as easily on surfaces, so CDC is no longer recommending the use of non-self-serve food service, single-use items, and pre-packaged meals. Delta variant or other variants: The Delta variant and other variants of concern should be one factor in schools’ decisions on prevention strategies. Community spread of the Delta variant might lead schools to strengthen prevention strategies or continue prevention strategies that are implemented, including consistent and correct use of masks.