In newly relaxed guidelines released Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that vaccinated students and staff members no longer will need to wear masks inside schools, but schools should try to continue to space children at least three feet apart in classrooms.
The changes come more than six weeks after Massachusetts school officials said they would be dropping all coronavirus-related protocols — including social distancing — for the start of the 2021-22 academic year.
Here’s how the CDC’s new guidelines compare to Massachusetts’ plan for the fall:
The CDC on Friday said vaccinated students and staff members no longer need to wear masks inside schools, but mask use will continue to be recommended for people who are not fully vaccinated.
People do not need to wear masks outdoors, the agency said.
“Based on the needs of the community,” however, the CDC wrote,a school district can still decide to require masks.
In Massachusetts, there is currently no mask mandate in place for schools this fall, regardless of vaccination status. State education leaders have said they plan to work with the state’s Department of Public Health this summer to determine if additional health and safety recommendations, including those around masking, need to be issued before the start of the academic year.
The CDC is recommending schools keep three feet of distance between students in classrooms — or layer other multiple prevention strategies when physical distancing is not possible. The agency emphasized, however, that these physical distancing guidelines are a recommendation, not a requirement, and should not keep a district from opening fully in person.
In Massachusetts, all social-distancing requirements have been dropped for the fall.
The CDC said schools can promote vaccinations to their students and staff members, but stopped short of recommending that districts require them.
Massachusetts also has not announced any plans to require vaccines for educators or students.
Both the CDC and Massachusetts education leaders are encouraging schools to continue following certain health and safety protocols to keep children and adults safe in school buildings.
This includes: updating and maintaining ventilation systems, handwashing, and encouraging everyone to stay home when they feel sick.
The push for in-person school
This fall, all Massachusetts school districts will be required to be open fully in person. The only options for virtual learning will be those that existed prior to the pandemic, such as home/hospital tutoring programs and single-district virtual schools.
Despite its recommendation for physical distancing in classrooms on Friday, the CDC emphasized in-person learning for students should be the top priority.
“For example, because of the importance of in-person learning, schools where not everyone is fully vaccinated should implement physical distancing to the extent possible within their structures (in addition to masking and other prevention strategies), but should not exclude students from in-person learning to keep a minimum distance requirement,” the CDC wrote.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.