CDC recommends universal indoor masking for K-12 schools

Duval County Public Schools says it’s consulting with health department about new guidance

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday recommended universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.

That recommendation came as the CDC also recommended that fully vaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission of COVID-19, changing course from its guidance in May that said fully vaccinated people could stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings.

Dr. Lee Beers, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, tweeted support for the CDC’s updated mask guidance for schools.

“Pediatricians welcome @CDCgov‘s updated mask guidance for schools. We want our kids back to school in-person and universal masking is best for school this fall to keep everyone safe,” the tweet reads.

On July 19, the AAP issued new COVID-19 guidance for schools that supports students returning to in-person learning and suggests universal masking in schools of everyone over the age of 2.

“The AAP believes that, at this point in the pandemic, given what we know about low rates of in-school transmission when proper prevention measures are used, together with the availability of effective vaccines for those age 12 years and up, that the benefits of in-person school outweigh the risks in all circumstances,” that guidance states.

Cases of the delta variant are surging with children set to return to school in just weeks.

Following the recommendation, a spokesperson for Duval County Public Schools told News4Jax: “The district is in consultation with the Florida Department of Health-Duval this week to review the new guidance from the CDC and discuss health and safety guidelines going into the new school year.”

A spokesperson for the St. Johns County School District said there hasn’t been a discussion yet about whether its mask policy should be updated with the new CDC recommendation.

“We always take into consideration the recommendations of the CDC,” St. John’s County School Board Chair Beverly Slough said Tuesday evening. “But actually we have, we are charged with following from our governor and the Department of Education and our community, so we’re still working through the process.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has pushed back against mandatory masking for schools. After the CDC’s call for universal masking for schools, DeSantis’ office released a statement saying parents should have the right to decide whether their children wear masks at school:

“Governor DeSantis believes that parents know what’s best for their children; therefore, parents in Florida are empowered to make their own choices with regards to masking. Experts have raised legitimate concerns that the risks of masking outweigh the potential benefits for children, because masking children can negatively impact their learning, speech, emotional and social development, and physical health (e.g., infections from bacteria that’s often found on masks, difficulty breathing while exercising in masks, etc.) Fortunately, the data indicate that COVID is not a serious risk to healthy children, which is why schools in most countries were among the first institutions to reopen. At the end of the day, the Governor trusts parents to weigh the risks and benefits and make the best choices for their kids.”

Parents also weighed in on the CDC’s recommendation.

“If she does go back to school, she would be wearing a mask,” said Julio Cintro, a parent in St. Johns County.

Rozy Martinez, a parent who lives in Jacksonville, said: “I think that’s really difficult. I work with younger children -- they’re touching it, they pull it down.”

Before the CDC announced the updated guidance Tuesday, Isaiah Rumlin, president of the Jacksonville Branch NAACP, shared with News4Jax a letter addressed to the Duval County superintendent. In the letter, Rumlin calls for DCPS to mandate masks for the upcoming school year.

“Too many younger, Lower-income, Southern kin are at the greatest risk,” the letter reads, in part. “Together, let’s protect ourselves and others as the dangerous variants wreak havoc around the world and the city Jacksonville, Florida. It is important now, more than ever, to take all precautions to protect each other, our community and most important our children.”

DCPS said July 21 that it strongly recommends that unvaccinated students wear masks when the 2021-22 school year begins in August.

“Students will not be required to wear masks,” the school district said, adding they are optional for the school day as well as school-related events like bus transportation.

Mask exceptions will be made for unvaccinated students with medical or developmental conditions, the district said.

The district followed other area school districts like Clay and St. Johns counties in making masks optional.

About the Authors:

McLean is a reporter with WJXT, covering education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.

Renee Beninate is a Florida native and award-winning reporter who joined the News4Jax team in June 2021.