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New CDC Guidelines for Schools

The CDC has recently released new guidelines for schools to be opened full time in the fall. Even as coronavirus cases surge in some parts of the US and concerns over virus variants increase, in-person schooling is being emphasized as a priority. Thus, vaccinations for all eligible people (age 12 and older) and layering safety strategies are key to the new guidelines. These guidelines are not to replace local guidance and policies.

Schools have been advised to promote COVID-19 vaccination. This includes offering vaccinations on site, providing paid sick leave for staff to be vaccinated, and excusing absences for students to be vaccinated. As of late, vaccines are available for all individuals 12 years of age and older. Vaccines for children under 12 are not yet authorized. It is impossible to vaccinate children under 12 before the school year begins as it takes several weeks to complete the two-dose vaccinations and wait two or more weeks to be deemed fully vaccinated. However, vaccines for younger children are estimated to be available by fall, with first elementary-age students eligible first followed by toddlers and then babies.

Fully vaccinated individuals-- teachers, other staff, and students-- are no longer required to wear masks at school. Non-vaccinated and non-eligible individuals are still required to wear masks. Masks are not required in the general outdoors, but in areas with high coronavirus transmission, non-fully vaccinated individuals may find it necessary to continue to wear masks. As correct and consistent mask usage by non-fully vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals in settings where physical distancing cannot be maintained, schools can enforce universal masking according to local conditions.

Various layers of protection have been outlined by the CDC: screening testing, ventilation, respiratory etiquette, staying home when sick and getting tested, contact tracing along with quarantine, cleaning, and disinfection. While physical distancing is to be continued in schools where not all individuals are vaccinated, students are not excluded from in-person learning to maintain physical distancing. All individuals experiencing COVID-19 or flu symptoms are to be tested and stay at home if sick. Unvaccinated people exposed to COVID-19 are to stay at home, but fully vaccinated people with no symptoms do not need to quarantine or get tested after exposure to a person with COVID-19. Cohorting (keeping people in small groups) can be used to limit contact between people, but cohorting vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals separately is not recommended. Close monitoring of local conditions— transmission, vaccination coverage, screening testing, and outbreaks— is to be used to make decisions about prevention strategies.

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