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Despite CDC Guidance, School Policies Vary on Masks, Vaccinations


In this Monday, May. 24, 2021, photo high school student Alex Bugarin, 13, is vaccinated at a school-based COVID-19 vaccination clinic for students 12 and older at the LAUSD San Pedro High School John M. and Muriel Olguin Campus in San Pedro, Calif. (AP P
Despite CDC Guidance, School Policies Vary on Masks, Vaccinations
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Officials, educators and parents agree that millions of students in the United States should return to in-person classes next month. However, they disagree on how children can safely go to schools as the Delta variant of the coronavirus spreads across the country.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky is director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. At a briefing on COVID-19 on July 27, she told reporters, “Children should return to full-time in-person learning in the fall with proper prevention strategy in place.”

Walensky recommended that all K-12 students, teachers, workers and visitors wear a face-covering, or mask, in schools. The recommendation is in effect for both unvaccinated and vaccinated people.

She said that fully vaccinated Americans should also wear face-coverings in public and indoors in communities “with substantial and high transmission” of COVID-19.

The health agency director added, “We continue to strongly encourage everyone to get vaccinated.” She noted that vaccination prevents severe illness and death and also helps reduce the spread of the virus.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten praised the agency’s new guideline to wear masks in schools. She said in a statement, “It is a necessary precaution until children under 12 can receive a COVID-19 vaccination and more Americans 12 and older get vaccinated.”

Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner takes pictures with high school students, as a Licensed Vocational Nurse prepares Pfizer vaccines. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner takes pictures with high school students, as a Licensed Vocational Nurse prepares Pfizer vaccines. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Some will not follow mask recommendation

The new CDC guidelines, however, are only recommendations. It is up to states and local officials to follow them.

The South Carolina Department of Education immediately wrote on Twitter that its “public schools will not be adopting the CDC’s recommendations for required mask use.” The department said state law, passed on July 1, banned mask requirements in public schools.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order on Friday blocking mask requirements in the state's public schools. He said parents had the right to decide if their children would wear face coverings.

“There will be no lockdowns, there will be no school closures, there will be no restrictions and no mandates in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said.

The CDC reported that more than 78 percent of U.S. counties are now considered to be areas “with substantial and high transmission” of COVID-19. That includes every single county in both Florida and South Carolina.

Over the weekend, the state of Florida also saw record highs for both new cases of COVID-19 infection and hospitalization. The numbers are higher than those set a year ago before vaccines were available.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference at a COVID-19 testing site at Hard Rock Stadium, during the new coronavirus pandemic, May 6, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference at a COVID-19 testing site at Hard Rock Stadium, during the new coronavirus pandemic, May 6, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Others push for vaccination requirements

In other states, officials are pushing to get their students and workers vaccinated. Many have set up vaccination centers to give shots to members of the school community. And some are giving students rewards in exchange for shots.

Chicago has the third-biggest school system in the country, with 341,000 students. Officials said that by early July, 78 percent of school workers had received at least one dose of vaccine.

In May and June, Chicago held vaccination events at 15 schools and gave out more than 1,500 shots to people in the community. The city also opened three vaccination centers in July to reach students and their families.

The states of New York and California have the country’s two largest school systems in New York City and Los Angeles. Recently, state and city officials required all public workers, including teachers and school workers, to be vaccinated or tested for COVID-19 weekly.

“What we’re seeing is a pandemic among those unvaccinated people, but it affects everyone,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

Mallory McGowin is the communications director for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. She said vaccines are the “best preventative measure that we have in place and we need families and educators to really consider getting that vaccine.”

Some states let young people decide for themselves whether to get vaccinated for COVID-19 and other diseases. In November, Washington, D.C., passed a law letting children 11 and older receive any vaccine approved by the CDC without their parents’ permission.

An advertisement promoting vaccinations in schools at a bus stop in Washington, D.C. July 26, 2021. (Dan Novak)
An advertisement promoting vaccinations in schools at a bus stop in Washington, D.C. July 26, 2021. (Dan Novak)

This summer, Washington, D.C., is operating COVID vaccination centers at middle and high schools. Some give out $51 gift cards to children over 12 for getting vaccinated.

Misinformation about vaccine safety and effectiveness is a large reason why some Americans are not getting shots.

The state of Tennessee has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. Lawmakers first stopped all vaccine outreach to children and young people. It began again in July, but state officials say it will be directed toward parents, not children.

Teenagers and young children are at lower risk of getting severe COVID-19 infection and being hospitalized. However, the risk remains. They can also still spread the disease to school workers and family members.

Talking with CBS Morning News, Walensky noted that children are dying from COVID-19 at twice the rate of the flu.

“It is really important to understand that while children are not getting sick nearly at the rate as adults are, they’re getting sick more than they would during a standard flu season and more deaths, indeed,” she said.

I’m Dan Novak.

And I'm Dan Friedell.

Dan Novak wrote this story for VOA Learning English with additional reporting from Reuters and the Associated Press. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

k-12 n. schools from Kindergarten to 12th grade

substantial adj. large in amount, size, or number

transmission n. the act or process by which something is spread or passed from one person or thing to another

precaution n. something that is done to prevent possible harm or trouble from happening in the future

mandate n. an official order to do something

county n. an area of a state or country that is larger than a city and has its own government to deal with local matters

dose n. the amount of a medicine, drug, or vitamin that is taken at one time

outreach n. the activity or process of bringing information or services to people

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