WASHINGTON — As the nation gears up to send children back to school in the fall, the American Academy of Pediatrics released new guidance Monday on how to return to the classroom safely. Among its top recommendations are potentially requiring COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine proof, and masks for anyone over the age of two, including those who are fully vaccinated.
The recommendations deviate from those of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which updated its recommendations earlier this month to say that vaccinated students and staff don't need to wear masks in school. The CDC also isn't advising schools to require shots for teachers and vaccine-eligible students.
The AAP didn't go so far as recommending requiring a vaccine, but did said that it may become necessary for school districts to do so in the future.
"It is critically important to develop strategies that can be revised and adapted depending on the level of viral transmission and test positivity rate throughout the community and schools," the recommendations outline, "recognizing the differences between school districts, including urban, suburban, and rural districts."
As of right now, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine only has Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA for people aged 12 and up.
One of the main reasons the AAP is recommending masks for everyone in schools this fall is because so many students are under 12 years old and therefore not eligible to be vaccinated. The AAP says that aspect combined with the difficulty of being able to police and track who is and isn't vaccinated and potential vaccine hesitancy are all reasons why everyone, not just the unvaccinated, should wear face coverings in schools.
The main theme of the AAP's recommendations Monday was clear.
"Everything possible must be done to keep students in schools in-person," the recommendations stress, citing the inequalities brought to the forefront by virtual-only learning. "The benefits of in-person school outweigh the risks in almost all circumstances."
U.S. cases of COVID-19 last week increased by 17,000 nationwide over a 14-day period for the first time since late fall, and an increase in death historically follows a spike in illness.