The American Academy of Pediatrics on Monday recommended that all children over the age of 2 wear masks when returning to school this year, regardless of vaccination status.
The AAP, which said its important for children to return to in-person learning this year, recommends that school staff also wear masks. The AAP is calling the new guidance a “layered approach.”
“We need to prioritize getting children back into schools alongside their friends and their teachers — and we all play a role in making sure it happens safely,” said Sonja O’Leary, chair of the AAP Council on School Health. “Combining layers of protection that include vaccinations, masking and clean hands hygiene will make in-person learning safe and possible for everyone.”
The AAP said universal masking is necessary because much of the student population is not vaccinated, and it’s hard for schools to determine who is as new variants emerge that might spread more easily among children.
Children 12 and over are eligible for Covid-19 vaccinations in the U.S. And the FDA said last week that emergency authorization for vaccines for children under 12 could come in early to midwinter.
Universal masking will also protect students and staff from other respiratory illnesses that could keep kids out of school, the AAP said.
The AAP also said that campers should wear masks during indoor activities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended this month that vaccinated students do not have to wear masks in classrooms.
What has not changed is guidance for children under the age of 2, which says it is dangerous for newborns and infants to wear masks because they can pose a suffocation risk, and babies and toddlers may try to remove them, actually increasing their chance of catching the virus.
All children should get caught up on vaccines they may have missed getting in the midst of the pandemic, like the flu shot, the AAP said.
“The last thing we want as we come out of this pandemic is an outbreak of another vaccine-preventable disease,” O’Leary said. “Now is the time for all of us to work together to keep our kids healthy and safe.”