The Connecticut State Department of Education is considering new guidelines by the U.S. Center for Disease Control as it prepares to make recommendations for what public health guidelines schools will have to follow in the fall.
The new guidelines say that vaccinated individuals do not need to wear masks indoors. They recommend that unvaccinated students and staff continue to wear masks inside school buildings, and that schools should continue with the 3-foot distancing rule between students.
The guidelines further say that when the distancing is not possible, or in schools that serve children under the age of 12 who are not eligible for vaccination, schools should “layer” other prevention strategies, such as indoor mask wearing, cleaning, testing and quarantining when there are positive COVID-19 cases.
In a joint statement with the State Department of Public Health, the Department of Education said they agree with the CDC’s emphasis on in-person learning and on getting students and staff members vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We also note the emphasis on “layers” of in-school mitigation strategies, and the importance of taking a measured approach when considering the removal of mitigation strategies based on local conditions,” the statement read. “We will consider these and other recommendations as we work towards release of Connecticut specific guidance for schools in the coming days.”
Some Connecticut school districts have already said that they will drop mask-wearing in the fall if the State Department of Education gives individual districts the right to make the decision.
Dr. Jody Terranova, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, said that she agreed that vaccinated individuals could feel comfortable removing their masks in the schools since the vaccinations were proving to be effective.
“[The guidance] is consistent with the thought that if you are vaccinated, you are at a very low risk of spreading the disease,” said Terranova, who is also president-elect and immunization representative for the Connecticut chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
However, Terranova said that the challenge would be knowing who was and was not vaccinated, and how schools would go about enforcing it.
She pointed out that students under the age of 12 would still need to be masked. She also said it could cause problems for middle schools who are not vaccinated and have to continue wearing a mask after their peers have been allowed to remove theirs.
Jeff Leake, president of the Connecticut Education Association, warned that safety should remain a top priority for the schools — which means continuing to follow public health protocols.
“The new guidelines underscore the need for consistent prevention strategies in school settings, especially those with unvaccinated individuals, and strategies include mask wearing, social distancing, hand washing, cleaning protocols, and adequate ventilation to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our schools,” Leake said in a statement.
The CDC recommends that districts continue to monitor outbreak levels in the local communities. It said that districts choosing to remove COVID-19 protocols should do so one at a time and monitor to make sure that cases do not increase.