The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in an update Friday that schools can drop mask requirements in communities with low to medium coronavirus spread, aligning schools’ health and safety precautions with those of the general public.
People in communities with high levels of COVID-19 should continue to wear a mask indoors, and those who are at higher risk for severe illness should speak with their doctors to tailor their precautions even in areas of medium spread. Communities could also take into consideration other factors, such as workforce capacity, when requiring masks in schools and other locations.
“With this update, CDC will now only recommend universal school masking in communities at the high level,” said Greta Massetti, chief of CDC’s Field Epidemiology and Prevention Branch and a member of the agency’s COVID-19 Response Incident Management Team. Massetti added that “prevention strategies can be dialed up when our communities are experiencing more severe disease and dialed down when things are more stable.”
The update is the first of its kind for schools since July 2021, when the CDC recommended universal masking indoors in public schools regardless of community COVID-19 spread.
The news also comes as districts like California’s Los Angeles Unified School District and Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia reexamine their own masking policies.
“We're in a stronger place today as a nation, with more tools to protect ourselves and our community from COVID-19,” said Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a press briefing Friday.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said the nation’s schools are entering “a new phase of recovery” with the change in guidance, and as 99% of schools are open for in-person learning.
“With today’s announcement of updated CDC guidance, we can continue to keep schools safely open while allowing for educators and parents to get back to focusing on what is most important: our students’ futures,” Cardona said in a statement.
“Moving forward, districts should continue to work with local health experts, parents, and educators to identify what works best for their communities and consider the appropriate mitigation strategies needed to keep students and staff safe.”
The new guidance comes with the ebbing of cases due to the omicron variant. The surge from omicron saw many schools revert to remote learning in late 2021 and early 2022.
However, under the new updated metrics — which consider local factors like healthcare system capacity — more than half of counties, with about 70% of Americans, are now in areas of low or medium community spread.
“We continue to see indicators improve in many communities,” said Massetti.