New CDC guidance brings universal masking to new K-12 school year

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published new guidance for the 2021-2022 school year that includes mask recommendations for everyone in K-12 schools and new ventilation efforts to help mitigate the resurgent spread of coronavirus amid the Delta variant and lagging vaccination rates.

"Given the recent trends in COVID spread due to premature relaxation of prevention strategies by unvaccinated individuals and lagging vaccination rates in some parts of our country, we support the recommendation for masking in K-12 schools,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement. “We must do everything to ensure that our students do not have to compromise any more of their educational experiences due to increases in community spread.”

The CDC recommended that everyone in K-12 schools wear a mask indoors — including teachers, students, and visitors — regardless of vaccination. 

The recommendations also urge school officials to help children two years and older wear masks whenever possible to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The CDC is advising masks should not be worn by children under the age of two.

“America’s public schools should be the safest place in every community," Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, told Yahoo Finance. "In order to protect students and educators, schools should be consistently and rigorously employing all the CDC-recommended mitigation strategies. The science is clear that masking, COVID-19 vaccinations, appropriate ventilation, social distancing, and handwashing— all in combination — is the best way to keep students, families, and educators safe and keep community transmission rates low."

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said the masking guidance was necessary in the face of the new delta variant.

“When science and evidence speak, we listen,” Weingarten said in a statement. “The CDC has issued this indoor mask mandate as a result of the troubling surge of COVID-19 Delta variant cases in unvaccinated communities and evidence of transmissibility of the Delta variant, even by vaccinated people. Thankfully, the research still demonstrates vaccine effectiveness against serious illness, and it remains the single most important tool to prevent severe COVID-19 cases.”

The CDC also encouraged school staff to "bring in as much outdoor air as possible by opening windows, using portable air cleaners, and improving building-wide filtration." The new guidance also asks school staff to consider holding certain activities outdoors when possible.

Not everyone agreed with the new guidance. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R) has repeatedly said that there will be no mask mandate or changes for businesses and schools.

"The CDC today is recommending that we wear masks in school and indoors, regardless of our vaccination status," Ducey said on Tuesday. "Arizona does not allow mask mandates, vaccine mandates, vaccine passports, or discrimination in schools based on who is or isn’t vaccinated. We’ve passed all of this into law, and it will not change."

Aarthi Swaminathan contributed to this report.

Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade.

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