Between the first 12-year-olds receiving their Covid-19 vaccines and new guidance that vaccinated people can remove their masks indoors, the outlook for school in the fall resembles what it was like before the pandemic.
After more than a year in which many students were learning remotely, children and educators should expect to return to in-person and full-time classes, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told ABC on Friday.
“We have the capacity now, between vaccines and testing, screening, we believe schools can and should be a very safe place for people to go back to in the fall,” Walensky said.
This week marked a major shift in the pandemic culture in the US.
Not only did the US Food and Drug Administration and the CDC expand the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine authorization for people as young as 12, the CDC also revised guidance on mask use.
Soon, much of American life will start looking like it did before Covid-19.
“People who are vaccinated should feel perfectly comfortable in going indoors without a mask,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Friday.
But while many things are changing for those who have been vaccinated, those who are not may find things looking the same as they have for the past year, experts said.
Children who are not yet been vaccinated will still need to wear masks in the classroom, Fauci said, adding that he could “almost guarantee” most schools will require it.
Even vaccinated teachers may still be wearing masks if they are around unvaccinated students, vaccine expert Dr. Paul Offit said Friday.
“If you’re around a large number of children who are not wearing masks, who certainly can get this infection — roughly 24% of the infections currently in the United States are in children — I guess, were I a teacher, I would choose to wear a mask,” Offit told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
2.4 million children vaccinated
Experts have attributed the positive changes to falling coronavirus case numbers and increased vaccinations.
More than 155 million people have received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine, including about 2.4 million children under 18, according to data published Friday by the CDC.
That means that 55% of those 12 and older have received at least one dose, the CDC data shows.
Meantime, officials have been strategizing on how to convince more adolescents to get vaccinated, especially as it usually involves having to convince their parents.
Nearly all states require some form of parental or guardian consent for vaccine providers to administer Covid-19 shots to adolescents ages 12 to 15, a CNN analysis finds.
But there are a few exceptions. Five states — Alabama, Iowa, North Carolina, Oregon and Tennessee — either allow some ages in that group to consent for themselves or leave requirements up to individual vaccine providers.
Another focus for officials is ensuring vaccines are given to 12-15-year-olds in an equitable way, the CDC’s vaccine advisers said Friday.
Solving social isolation from remote school
The effort to vaccinate children and adolescents could have just as big of an impact on their social health as it does on their physical health.
One of the biggest losses for students in the last year has been social isolation, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten told CNN, adding that resources will need to be dedicated to that issue.
Speaking with CNN’s John Berman, Weingarten said that she thinks students will be able to recover academically, but the loss of in-person social interaction has been one of the worst parts of remote learning.
“There are some kids who did very well on remote,” Weingarten said. “But what’s really been lost is the peer-to-peer contact. What’s really been lost is the prolonged effects of social isolation.”
She also noted that the pandemic has highlighted the huge inequities within the education system and that it was crucial to provide more resources to schools that weren’t doing well before Covid-19.
Where states stand on mask guidance
Following the CDC’s decision Thursday to advise that masks do not have to be worn indoors for those who are vaccinated, many state leaders quickly revised their own guidance.
After holding back to review the CDC guidelines, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Friday the state is relaxing its Covid-19 measures.
“Effective immediately, we are lifting all mandatory capacity and gathering limits, and social distancing requirements, and most mandatory mask requirements,” Cooper said. “That means, in most settings indoors or outdoors, the state of North Carolina will no longer require you to wear a mask, or to be socially distant.”
Colorado also initially paused any changes. But Friday Gov. Jared Polis announced that the state is moving from a mask mandate to a mask suggestion.
“We are thrilled with the recent CDC guidance,” Polis said during a Friday press conference. “We are able to really embrace this science-based judgment by the CDC, which we agree with.”
Costco also said Friday that customers who are vaccinated against Covid-19 can shop without masks at US locations where there are no state or local mask mandates.