The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new school guidance on Friday, calling for a full return to classrooms in the fall and recommending that masks be optional for fully vaccinated students and staff.
But the guidance left a lot of details up to state and local governments, advising districts to use local coronavirus data to guide decisions about when to tighten or relax prevention measures like masking and physical distancing. It also recommended that unvaccinated students and staff members keep wearing masks.
In New York City, the nation’s largest public school district, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday that masks will still be required for everyone in the upcoming school year, though he added that officials would continue to evaluate the decision.
“For now, assume we’re wearing masks, but that could change as we get closer,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference. “But we’ll be driven by, you know, the data we see and, and the science as always.”
California also announced that it will continue requiring masks in public schools, a policy that has been in place since February and was reiterated in newly issued guidance released on Monday for K-12 public schools.
But on Monday, California officials briefly went a step further when it was announced that “schools must exclude students from campus if they are not exempt from wearing a face covering under California Dept. of Public Health guidelines and refuse to wear one provided by the school.”
The announcement created confusion about whether it marked a change in how mask rules would be enforced in schools and what the state’s role might be in that enforcement, the state’s health and human services secretary, Mark Ghaly, said in an interview.
Within hours, that language was removed, and updated guidelines were released again, omitting the reference that schools “must exclude” students who refuse to wear masks.
Mr. Ghaly said masks will continue to be required in school settings, but how that mandate will be enforced will be up to schools’ own discretion, a continuation of a policy from the previous academic year.
“I think the most important thing to say is that California is starting the school year with all of our students masked,” Mr. Ghaly said.
Health officials will continue to monitor data and revisit whether to ease or maintain its mask mandate in schools no later than Nov. 1, he said.
The topic of school closures and reopenings has been particularly contentious since the onset of the pandemic, and advising districts has been a pervasive challenge for the C.D.C.
On Friday, the C.D.C. issued guidance urging schools to fully reopen in the fall and called on local districts to use local coronavirus data as guidance for public health measures.
The agency continues to recommend three feet of social distancing in classrooms, but in a departure from previous guidance, it says that schools can also combine other strategies, like indoor masking, testing and enhanced ventilation, if such spacing would prevent schools from fully reopening.
In another shift, masks are not mandatory for those who are fully vaccinated, according to the new guidelines. The C.D.C. continues to recommend masks for those who are not vaccinated, mirroring guidance for the general public.
In California and in New York City, average daily cases have increased in recent weeks, driven largely by the Delta variant, now the dominant strain in the country. But the overall number of cases remains low, and epidemiologists have said it was unlikely that the Delta variant would prove anywhere near as devastating as the past two waves of Covid-19.
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