On Friday, July 9, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) released new guidelines for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade. The CDC updated its guidelines to “provide safe and supportive learning environments for students.” It recognized that outbreaks of COVID-19 have occurred in schools; however, it indicated that multiple studies show that when schools implement multiple prevention strategies on campus, the transmission rates are lower than or similar to community transmission levels. Because the CDC recognized the import of in-person schooling for students, it updated its guidelines to achieve that goal and emphasized the import of vaccinations for those eligible.

The updated guidelines encouraged schools to mandate masks for all non-vaccinated children. Regardless of vaccination status, the CDC recommended that all students maintain at least three feet of physical distance from one another while in the classroom and at least six feet for unvaccinated individuals. The CDC emphasized the need for localities to monitor community transmission and vaccination, and for schools to layer its recommended prevention strategies since children under twelve years old are not yet vaccine eligible.

Mask use is recommended for individuals not fully vaccinated, including students, teachers, and staff. If outdoors, the CDC stated that masks generally do not need to be worn. Masks should be worn in accordance with CDC guidelines. The CDC also recommended teachers and staff who work with students with disabilities wear masks that have a clear panel to help interactions with “young students, students learning to read, or when interacting with people who rely on reading lips.”

Schools should consider improving ventilation to “reduce the number of virus particles in the air.” Schools can achieve this by “opening multiple doors and windows, using child-safe fans to increase the effectiveness of open windows, and making changes to the HVAC or air filtration systems.” Likewise, schools should continue working with local and state health departments to facilitate contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine.

These updated guidelines were announced in the wake of the continued widespread emergence of SARS-CoV-2 B.1.617.2: the Delta variant of COVID-19. According to the CDC, this strand is highly transmissible in certain circumstances and “has a potentially higher rate of transmission than other [COVID] variants.” Since its emergence in late 2020, the Delta variant has been detected in approximately 60 countries. The CDC is currently tracking and publicizing data related to COVID variants, which can be found here.