What new CDC mask guidance means for schools and educators

Vaccinated individuals can now go without masks outdoors, but unvaccinated individuals including children under 16, should continue to wear them.
By: | April 29, 2021
(AbodeStock/Darren Baker)(AbodeStock/Darren Baker)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance on masks and fully vaccinated individuals as well as updated guidance for summer camp programs that are of interest to education stakeholders and those planning summer programs for students to address learning loss due to COVID-19.

Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People allows vaccinated individuals to go without masks outdoors. “Generally, for vaccinated people, outdoor activities for people without a mask are safe,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. However, she said unvaccinated individuals — a group that includes children and youths under 16 years of age — should continue to wear masks outdoors unless exercising with members of their own households or attending small outdoor gatherings with family and friends.

CDC continues to recommend masks be worn by all at large outdoor events, such as sporting events, where vaccinated and unvaccinated people are in attendance because of the inability to distinguish among the groups, Walensky said. People who are unvaccinated should limit their interaction with other people and increase ventilation and spacing if possible. In those settings, “we really worry about protecting unvaccinated people,” she said.

The CDC guidance also includes the following:

  • Fully vaccinated individuals should continue to follow preventive measures indoors, including wearing masks, washing hands, and covering coughs and sneezes, as well as following any other school or workplace guidance.
  • If a fully vaccinated individual has been exposed to COVID-19 but remains asymptomatic, that individual is no longer subject to work restrictions.
  • If a fully vaccinated resident of a “non-healthcare congregate setting” is exposed to COVID-19, a quarantine period is no longer necessary.
  • Fully vaccinated individuals who are asymptomatic and have no known exposure to COVID-19 can be exempt from screening tests.

Summer camp guidance

Guidance for Operating Youth and Summer Camps During COVID-19 is intended for all types of youth day camps and overnight camps, including those that provide summer enrichment programs for students to address academic, social, and emotional learning needs in the wake of COVID-19.

The guidance includes updates on physical distancing, camp activities, screening and contract tracing, cleaning and disinfection, physical barriers, developing emergency operations plans, ventilation and water systems, communal spaces including food service, playgrounds and play spaces, and overnight camps.

“Organizations that provide summer day camps on school grounds should use this guidance,” while summer learning programs provided by schools on school grounds should follow the CDC Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Mitigation, said Dr. Craig Thomas, task force lead for the CDC Community Interventions and Critical Populations Task Force. “We recognize the value and importance that summer camps play in promoting the mental, social, academic, and emotional health of our youth … and it’s a rite of passage for our children [to learn] skills, test their abilities, and establish connections and relationships, all critical for health and wellbeing.”

Speaking during a virtual Summer Learning and Enrichment Collaborative Convening hosted by the U.S. Education Department, Thomas said CDC learned from collective experience operating camps in summer 2020 and incorporated that information, along with the latest science, in the updated guidance for summer camps. The guidance is meant to supplement not replace state and local laws, rules, and regulations, so camp operators should check with local authorities to ensure compliance.

Camps can be sources of outbreaks, so consistent, layered use of multiple prevention strategies can keep camps open; protect children, staff, and families; and control the spread of COVID-19 in the community, Thomas said.

Here are some specific suggestions from the summer camp guidance:

  • As vaccines are not yet authorized for children of all ages, prevention measures such as mask-wearing and physical distancing must still be followed.
  • Camp activities, particularly sports and athletics, should take place outside as much as possible. This may also apply to summer learning programs, Thomas said.
  • If activities are held indoors, ensure that fresh air and good ventilation are available.
  • Staff, volunteers, campers, and family members are encouraged to get vaccinated. Campers and staff that aren’t yet vaccinated should provide proof of a negative viral test taken no more than one to three days prior to arrival in camp.
  • Campers and staff not fully vaccinated should be tested three to five days after returning home from camp and self-quarantine for seven days post-travel.
  • Physical distancing recommendations align with change in K-12 operational strategy — includes at least 3 feet of physical distancing between campers in the same cohort, except when eating or drinking.
  • Campers and staff from different cohorts should remain at least 6 feet apart.
  • Coping, resilience, and concerns for equity should also be addressed by camp operators, Thomas said.

Thomas added that it is important for camp operators or officials operating summer programs to partner with local health departments and other health agencies as they are critical to reporting outbreaks, determining local transmission levels, assessing variants, and promoting community resources for screening, testing, and vaccination.

He said officials should be mindful of other changes this summer; for example, he said CDC anticipates the expansion of the use of COVID-19 vaccine among adolescents ages 12-15, pending FDA emergency approval. Camp operators and other school officials should look to CDC for changes to vaccination strategies, particularly among adolescents, as well as changes to other CDC guidelines in coming months.

“If there are changes along the way, we will certainly keep you updated on that,” Thomas said.

Charles Hendrix covers education funding and other Title I issues for LRP Publications.

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