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CDC relaxes guidelines for masks in schools

Published: Jul. 9, 2021 at 6:01 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Big announcements Friday from the CDC. It’s relaxing some of its COVID-19 guidelines for schools.

The CDC says teachers and students who are vaccinated don’t need to wear masks inside school buildings anymore. The new guidance also recommends schools maintain at least three feet of distance between students within classrooms. And those who are 2 years and older and not vaccinated should wear masks inside.

This comes after Georgia’s Governor Brian Kemp said schools could not mandate mask wearing. The CDC guidance comes less than a month from the start of schools in our area.

“These are guidelines not mandates,” said Dr. Stephen Thacker, Pediatric Infectious Disease.

The Savannah-Chatham County Public School System sent WTOC this statement, “The health and safety of our students and staff remains our top priority. As we have since the pandemic began, we are following the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and our local department of health. As transmission rates and hospitalizations remain low, we will continue to adjust pandemic related safety mandates for school year 21-22. We have offered guidance for our staff that includes a relaxation of the mask requirement. Masks are optional for staff and students; however, because children under the age of 12 are able to be vaccinated at this time, a combination of layered mitigation strategies will be encouraged. We will continue to enforce all the recommended prevention strategies: screening testing, ventilation, handwashing and respiratory etiquette, staying home when sick and getting tested, contact tracing in combination with quarantine and isolation, and cleaning and disinfection are important layers of prevention to keep schools safe. SCCPSS will continue to monitor community transmission, vaccination coverage, screening testing, and occurrence of outbreaks to guide decisions on the level of layered prevention strategies

We look forward to returning to classrooms on Wednesday, August 4, 2021 for in person instruction five days a week. Virtual learning remains an option through the Savannah-Chatham eLearning Academy.”

The guidance from the CDC makes it clear students should be back in the classroom this year. They also acknowledge that schools will have a mixture of vaccinated and unvaccinated people making a layered safety approach important. They say those who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear a mask, but masking remains important for those who haven’t got their shot or are not eligible. They also recommend three feet of social distance in classrooms.

“I think it also orients parents to what would trusted health advisors at the CDC recommend for you if your child is unvaccinated and you’re in an environment where masking is voluntary. I would take that messaging to say that if I have a child who is unvaccinated and voluntary masking is the policy for my school I’m going to send my kid to school with masking.”

Dr. Thacker says there’s no timeline for when the vaccine could be approved for those younger than 12 years old. Despite this, he isn’t concerned about kids going back to school, but rather communities with low vaccination rates.

“It does give me worry that we have communities and counties in our state and our local region that have a very low vaccine uptake because that means that those children’s parents, their grandparents their aunts and uncles may very well be at risk for a life threatening infection.”

He says now is the time to be vaccinated. Memorial will host a vaccine clinic July 15 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Children’s Hospital for those 12 and up to get their shot.

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