The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated its guidance for COVID-19 prevention in K-12 schools. According to the CDC, students benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction in the fall of 2021 is a priority.
“These updates take into account many of the things we have learned over the last year,” said Dr. Annamaria Macaluso Davidson, VP of Employee Health Medical Operations for Memorial Hermann Health System. “The updated guidance takes a practical approach – the protection of health and reducing the spread of infection requires a multifaceted methodology.”
It’s important to note that at the time of publication of this blog, vaccines are not available to children under the age of 12. According to Dr. Macaluso Davidson, studies are still ongoing for this age group and we expect to hear more this fall. Many schools serve children under the age of 12, therefore this guidance emphasizes implementing layered prevention strategies (e.g., using multiple prevention strategies together consistently) to protect those who are not fully vaccinated, including students, teachers, staff, and other members of their households.
Here are four key takeaways from the updated CDC guidance:
- GET VACCINATED, IF ELIGIBLE. Vaccination is currently the leading public health strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports.
- IF NOT ELIGIBLE, MASK UP. Masks should be worn indoors by all individuals (age 2 and older) who are not fully vaccinated. Consistent and correct mask use by those who are not fully vaccinated is especially important indoors and in crowded settings, when physical distancing cannot be maintained.
- DISTANCE WHEN YOU CAN. The CDC recommends schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms, combined with indoor mask wearing by those who are not fully vaccinated, to reduce transmission risk. When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet, it is especially important to layer multiple other prevention strategies, such as indoor masking.
- REMEMBER SIMPLE SAFETY MEASURES. Screening testing, ventilation, handwashing and respiratory etiquette, staying home when sick and getting tested (this goes for students, teachers, and staff), contact tracing in combination with quarantine and isolation, and cleaning and disinfection are also important layers of prevention to keep schools safe.
COVID-19 prevention strategies remain critical to protect all those who are not fully vaccinated, especially in areas of moderate-to-high community transmission levels. Localities should monitor community transmission, vaccination coverage, screening testing, and occurrence of outbreaks to guide decisions on the level of layered prevention strategies (e.g., physical distancing, screening testing, etc.).
“Make sure to also keep your regular appointments with healthcare providers for yourself and for your children,” said Dr. Macaluso Davidson. “The Texas Medical Association released data this month that showed a substantial decrease in administration of recommended vaccines over the last year and half – as many of us did not keep our regular health check-ups. Staying up-to-date with recommended vaccines (like tetanus, pertussis, measles, etc.) and regular check-ups will ensure your children are in their best health leading into the school year.”
Dr. Macaluso Davidson added that parents should continue to look at the whole health of a child, including emotional, mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing.
“We have learned a lot about illness prevention and we can continue those habits – enhanced cleaning measures, staying home when sick, practicing good hand hygiene – all will help reduce illness and the spread of infections,” said Dr. Macaluso Davidson. “Many schools will continue to implement social distancing where they can, encourage staff and students to stay home when sick, continue clinical assessments and referrals, and allow mask use if desired.”
“The vaccines are a great tool for prevention of illness and disease, and a great way to protect yourself and build that immunity. They are beneficial for all eligible age groups and continue to show steady protection of severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19. For the school district staff, vaccines are a great way to protect yourself before heading back to school,” added Dr. Macaluso Davidson.
Need more suggestions on how to send your kids back to school safely and ready for the new school year? Check out these top tips from a Children’s Memorial Hermann-affiliated pediatrician