While the CDC says masks won’t be needed for vaccinated students and staff, other experts believe face covers could protect children in the classroom.
SEATTLE – With the start of the school year, Washington Districts are preparing to resume an all-in-person apprenticeship in the fall. Vaccines are widely available and the pandemic has shown the many benefits of bringing children together in the classroom.
Now the question is how to do it safely amid the lingering threat of the pandemic.
On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released new recommendations on classroom safety – including an incentive to get vaccinated if eligible, and advice that nearly all students and staff should wear masks, regardless of their vaccination status.
This masking push contradicts recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which said that in the fall, vaccinated students and staff would not need to wear masks indoors.
The Washington Department of Health (DOH) currently requires students and staff over the age of two to mask themselves indoors, unless a medical or developmental issue makes it unsafe. Masks are not compulsory outside.
Dr Benjamin Starnes, executive medical director of pediatrics for Swedish in Seattle, said the AAP guidelines reflect a push “by any means necessary” to bring and keep children in the classroom. This is after increasing research showed serious impacts on mental health and education for children who endured two school years affected by the pandemic and distance learning.
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In March, Governor Jay Inslee declared a child mental health crisis and signed a statement demanding that districts offer in-person learning.
Even in Washington and King County, where vaccination rates are relatively high, Starnes said masking had its place in the classroom in the fall.
“So that will protect them from more than COVID,” he said. “This will keep them healthy and less likely to miss school, from you know a cold, which unfortunately due to COVID we have to prevent kids from going to school with any kind of symptom that might look like to COVID until we know for sure, which adds a different layer of complexity and keeps them coming back to school.
The AAP and Starnes highlighted the difficulty of checking the immunization status of each student and applying different mask standards based on it. Universal masking would be much easier to implement.
The two also noted that a large number of students in Kindergarten to Grade 12 – anyone under the age of 12 – are not yet eligible for coronavirus vaccines and would be at increased risk.
While masks have certainly become a political issue for some, research shows that they are effective in preventing the transmission of COVID-19. And Starnes called on all parents opposed to masking for in-person learning to consider the alternatives and the potential consequences.
“I would say that I want the child to continue to be able to go to school in person and the only way to do that is to do our best to keep every child in school healthy and protected from harm. COVID as possible, ”Starnes said. “Because it will only take one school outbreak to close that school, and then all of those kids who go there have now lost the opportunity to be in a school in person. “
Washington is proposing the following requirements for schools in the upcoming school year, in accordance with DOH guidelines: “For the 2021-2022 school year, schools should plan to offer full-time in-person education to all interested students with the following mandatory mitigation measures: face covering, ventilation, cleaning and disinfection, details on how schools will respond to COVID-19 cases, and meet public health reporting requirements. “
However, the DOH said on Monday that changes could be made.
“We are currently reviewing CDC K-12 guidelines and working with local public health, the governor’s office, the Department of Labor and Industry, the office of the Superintendent of Public Education, school districts and educators. as we consider the next steps, ”said a spokesperson. “We plan to release updates to the guidelines in the coming weeks.”
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Public schools in Seattle and Tacoma said Monday that they plan to follow state guidelines on immunizations and masks. The Everett COVID site is asking people to always wear masks in the school building. Seattle has an information and planning page for the 2021/2022 school year here, with Tacoma’s map downloadable here, and Everett is here.
Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett plan to offer distance learning options to interested students. Tacoma said 1,300 students have already registered for the virtual option, out of about 28,000 students.