The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a release Monday "strongly" encouraging schools around the country to mandate masks for everyone over the age of 2, regardless of vaccination status, when at school.
More than 67,000 pediatric care specialists are members of the AAP, and it's the group's belief that universal masking in schools will be critical during the 2021-22 academic year because children under 12 aren't yet approved to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, while only a minority of 12-17 year olds have had their shots.
"Combining layers of protection that include vaccinations, masking and clean hands hygiene will make in-person learning safe and possible for everyone," said Sonja O’Leary, MD, FAAP, chair of the AAP Council on School Health.
The AAP's advice is more stringent than the Center for Disease Control & Prevention, which as of July 9 guidance says all unvaccinated individuals over the age of 2 should wear a mask when indoors.
Last week, Heather Mueller, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education, acknowledged the updated CDC guidance.
“They do recommend that students in elementary schools continue to wear masks, but that is not something that can be dictated or guided by the Department of Education,” said Mueller.
Individual school districts can choose to require face masks be worn by students or staff, but a statewide school mask mandate would need to come from Gov. Tim Walz, who relinquished his emergency powers at the end of June. The federal government still requires masks or face coverings when traveling via public transportation, including school buses.
Meanwhile, O'Leary emphasized the importance of in-person learning this year after students spent significant time distance learning last year. The academy believes a universal masking policy is less burdensome than tracking every student and teacher's vaccination status.
"Research has shown that opening schools generally does not significantly increase community transmission with masking and other safety measures in place. Recently, COVID-19 variants have emerged that may increase the risk of transmission and result in worsening illness. Given the effectiveness of safety precautions when used consistently, children are at higher risk of suffering mental health issues and developmental setbacks if they miss out on in-school learning, according to AAP."
The Minnesota Department of Health is in the process of working with the education department to finalize health and safety plans for the upcoming school year.
"Prioritizing in-person learning while protecting the health and safety of students, staff and families remains our top priority. MDH will be working with MDE to review the CDC guidance for schools and will be making updates to the Minnesota school guidance for the 2021-22 school year," a spokesperson told Bring Me The News.
"We will share more information on the final guidance when it is ready. We continue to urge all eligible Minnesotans to get vaccinated now so they are ready for the school year and we can help limit spread of COVID-19 in schools and our communities."
Related [July 15]: How the Delta variant is affecting MN's COVID-19 status
The updated guidance from the academy comes at a time when the Delta variant is becoming dominant in the U.S., now accounting for more than 57% of all samples that are analyzed through genomic sequencing.