But will children and teachers have to wear masks, now that many more adults are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 – and many children ages 12 and over are as well? For that matter, can kids and teachers be required to get the vaccine?
We rounded up the basic rules around masks, social distancing, and vaccinations. Details can vary significantly between districts and states, and the guidelines are changing, but here’s what we know right now.
Will kids have to wear masks in school?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not updated its mask guidance for schools for fall 2021. For now, it recommends schools continue to require “universal and correct use of masks” – strictly interpreted, this means also on the playground – through the end of the 2020-21 academic year.
But with national guidance slow to change, states and districts are already making decisions about in-school protocols on their own – which means policies vary widely depending on where families live.
In Massachusetts, physical distancing can end when schools fully reopen this fall, but state officials said they haven’t decided what to do about mask requirements, such as for elementary students. In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan recently said children should not have to wear masks or socially distance in schools this fall, because the state’s virus positivity rates have dropped below 1%.
Other districts plan to continue more strict mitigation measures. In Washington, D.C., public school staff, students, and visitors must wear masks this fall, and desks should be separated “as far as possible,” according to the district.
Confusion reigns in other places, like New York. The state’s Department of Health indicated it would lift the statewide mask requirement for schools on June 7. But then the state’s Education Department emailed all districts to say officials would wait for a response from the CDC before lifting the mandate, according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. For now, New York students must still wear masks in schools.
Before vaccinations became widespread, health measures for the blanket population were easy to apply to everyone, said Amanda Simanek, an epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“Any situation for schools is now in the context of adult populations being vaccinated,” she said.
Do kids have to wear masks in daycare settings?
Even after child care providers are vaccinated, COVID-19 restrictions are likely to continue in some fashion, according to the CDC.
Right now, the agency recommends children 2 and older should wear masks in public settings, except when they’re eating or sleeping. But mask requirements – including age thresholds – are typically dictated by local and state health departments and vary widely based on geography.
In states such as Kentucky, Maryland, and Oregon, children younger than 5 are exempt from state mask mandates. In Michigan, officials in late April extended the state’s mask mandate to children ages 2 to 4 when in public spaces, including daycare.
Masks have been more widespread for adult child care providers.
Even after adult workers are vaccinated, the CDC warns, “there will be a need to continue prevention measures for the foreseeable future including wearing masks, physical distancing, and other important prevention strategies.”
Other recommended strategies include ventilation, limiting nonessential visitors, temperature and symptom checks, staggered scheduling for pickup or drop-off, and grouping children in cohorts.
Babies and children under 2 should never wear a face-covering because of the risk of suffocation, notes Kim Kruckel, the executive director of the California-based Child Care Law Center.
Can schools require students to get the vaccine for COVID-19?
Generally speaking, private institutions, including daycares, can decide whether to require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a prerequisite for enrollment. But vaccines have yet to be approved for children younger than 12.
For public schools, vaccine requirements are largely left up to states, but none have yet required children to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to reenter school, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
As of May, about 61% of parents say they plan to vaccinate all their children, and 27% would not vaccinate any of their children against COVID-19, according to a survey by the COVID Collaborative, Ad Council, and the Council of the Great City Schools.
Only 55% of Black parents said they planned to vaccinate their children – the lowest rate among racial and ethnic groups.
However, about 75% of respondents said they’d be more likely to vaccinate their children if it was required by schools, the survey showed.
Can schools and daycares require teachers to be vaccinated?