“The pandemic has taken a heartbreaking toll on children, and it’s not just their education that has suffered but their mental, emotional and physical health,” Dr. Sonja O’Leary, chairwoman of the group’s Council on School Health, said in a statement. “Combining layers of protection that include vaccinations, masking and clean hands hygiene will make in-person learning safe and possible for everyone.”
The group also recommended teachers and staff wear masks unless they have a condition that prevents them from doing so. The group said it made its recommendation because “a significant portion” of the country’s students aren’t eligible for COVID-19 vaccines – only children as young as 12 are eligible to receive one of the three vaccines available in the U.S.
The academy’s Dr. Sara Bode also noted that some people cannot get vaccinated.
“It’s important to use every tool in our toolkit to safeguard children from COVID-19,” Bode, chairperson-elect of the group’s Council on School Health Executive Committee, said in a statement. “Universal masking is one of those tools, and has been proven effective in protecting people against other respiratory diseases, as well.”
After the group released its new guidance, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters President Biden would rely on the CDC’s recommendations, but she acknowledged the different guidelines can be confusing to parents.
“There will be different decisions made by school districts, just like there will be different decisions made by local communities,” Psaki said. “We certainly understand and recognize that, but we will continue to rely on the CDC for guidelines and guidance.”