WASHINGTON - Students and teachers vaccinated against COVID-19 will not need to wear masks in US classrooms when school resumes in the fall, health authorities said Friday.
The new guidance follows the recent federal approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 shot for Americans aged 12 to 15, with hospitalizations and deaths down sharply since January — but cases beginning an upward trajectory due to the surging Delta variant of the coronavirus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had announced in May that vaccinated Americans could drop masks, but the health advice for schools was not immediately changed accordingly.
"Indoors: Mask use is recommended for people who are not fully vaccinated, including students, teachers, and staff," the nation's lead federal public health agency announced in its updated guidance.
Schools are free to follow the guidelines or ignore them, the CDC added.
"Based on the needs of the community, school administrators may opt to make mask use universally required (i.e., required regardless of vaccination status) in the school," the agency says.
Reasons for continuing to enforce mask usage might include high transmission rates in schools and their localities, or simply "difficulty monitoring or enforcing mask policies that are not universal."
Health officials stress that returning to in-person learning in the fall is a "priority."
"Achieving high levels of COVID-19 vaccination among eligible students as well as teachers, staff, and household members is one of the most critical strategies to help schools safely resume full operations," the guidance said. —Agence France-Presse