American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children over the age of 2 wear masks to school in the fall. Experts weigh in.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has released updated guidelines for the 2021-2022 school year, with an important point that differs from the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: The AAP recommends that all students and staff wear masks regardless of vaccination status.
“All students over the age of 2 and all school staff must wear face masks at school (unless medical or developmental disabilities prohibit their use),” the updated guidance is reading. The AAP specifically listed the reasons for the universal masking recommendation:
A “significant proportion” of students are not eligible for vaccination.
Universal masking will protect unvaccinated students from COVID-19 and “reduce transmission”.
A “lack of a system” to monitor vaccine status among students, faculty and staff.
It would be difficult to control or enforce mask policies for those who have not been vaccinated. “In the absence of schools that can perform this monitoring, universal masking is the best and most effective strategy to create consistent messages, expectations, enforcement and compliance without the added burden of checking vaccination status,” the AAP says.
Possibility of low vaccination coverage in the surrounding school community.
Persistent concerns about variants being more easily spread among children, teens and adults.
An added benefit of protecting students and staff from other respiratory viruses.
Currently, children 12 years and older are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in the US. However, most elementary school students and some high school students are not yet eligible.
The CDCs guidelines for COVID-19 prevention in schools, which was updated on July 9, says that “masks should be worn indoors by all individuals (2 years and older) who have not been fully vaccinated.”
Some doctors support the news. dr. Richard Watkins, an infectious disease physician and professor of internal medicine at Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Yahoo Life that the AAP’s guidance is “superb,” adding that he “strongly agrees” with the organization’s decision.
dr. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, also supports the AAP’s recommendation. “We have to keep wearing the masks until the pandemic is officially over — not preemptively stopping the masks and popping champagne early,” he told Yahoo Life.
“This is the right thing to do,” says Dr. Dennis Kuo, chief of the Division of General Pediatrics at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo tells Yahoo Life.
Kuo also cites the Delta strain of the coronavirus, which is spreading rapidly among unvaccinated Americans, as a concern. “The Delta variant looks like it’s behaving much more aggressively than previous strains of the virus — it’s much more contagious and seems to affect children more,” he says. “As a pediatrician, I want to see the children in schools with the aim of keeping schools open and all children in school. Masking can help.”
“There is a strong rationale for this recommendation,” says Dr. Rosemary Olivero, an infectious disease pediatrician at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, told Yahoo Life. “The uptake of COVID-19 vaccinations among those currently eligible under the current emergency use authorization is still quite low. There is no current COVID-19 vaccination for children under the age of 12. Summarizing this, and knowing the amazing success most districts have had in preventing the spread of COVID-19 in schools with simple strategies like wearing masks universally, it makes perfect sense to continue using masks universally.”
But not everyone is on board. Infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, disagrees with the AAP’s guidelines. “I’m not aware of any science that supports the idea that fully vaccinated individuals should wear masks,” he told Yahoo Life. “The data shows that once you are fully vaccinated, this virus is not a risk to you and you are not a risk to others.”
Adalja says the CDC guidelines are “correct that fully vaccinated individuals should not wear a mask.” And, he says, schools that follow the CDC’s recommendations may encourage others to get vaccinated. “If the goal is to get more children vaccinated, it’s not a good incentive to ask them to wear masks despite their vaccination status,” he says.
Whether schools will adopt the AAP’s recommendation is unclear at this time. “I really hope this won’t be politically motivated, but medically driven,” Ganjian said. “Schools should follow the advice of the AAP.” But Olivero says it’s “very hard to tell” which way schools will go. “Many school districts have already communicated expectations before the start of the school year,” she says. “However, we encourage physicians, school administrators and the public to remain flexible and willing to adapt to the needs we will have as the pandemic continues to evolve.”
Ganjian gives parents this advice before the start of the new school year: “Put masks on.”
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