Regulations related to the use of facemasks at school age generate confusion and contradictory messages in the U.S., especially since the back-to-school season is approaching.
Several authorities in the country are sending paradoxical messages not only about the use of facemasks, but also about the return to in-person classes. In some states, children will be free to go to school without masks, in others only those who cover their faces will be allowed to enter. In other localities, only those who study in private schools will be able to attend classes in person.
Recently, President Joe Biden said he expects the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to urge unvaccinated students to wear masks to school.
“The CDC is going to say that what we should do is that everyone under the age of 12 should probably wear a mask to school,” Biden said because children under 12 are not yet eligible for vaccination.
The president’s announcement about making it mandatory for children to wear masks in schools comes two weeks after the CDC issued guidance stating that those who are vaccinated do not need masks inside academic institutions.
In short, vaccinated children over the age of 12 would not wear masks, while younger children would be required to wear masks.
Days earlier, the American Academy of Pediatrics also issued conflicting recommendations, calling for all students over the age of 2 to wear masks in schools, regardless of their vaccination status.
Children’s freedom in the hands of states
While this is happening, states and cities are taking the back-to-school and mask-wearing issue each in turn with different recommendations. For example, Chicago, Boston and Washington D. C. announced plans to require all students to cover their faces at school this fall.
Virginia took a different route this week by recommending that students and staff wear masks indoors, but allow local school divisions to determine whether to implement the requirements based on COVID-19 rates and expert recommendations.
In California, only private schools will return to classes in person, while public schools will return to classes virtually.
Los Angeles County reinstated a mask mandate for all people indoors, regardless of vaccination status. The city and county of St. Louis followed suit; residents will have to wear masks in enclosed public places and on public transportation, regardless of whether they were vaccinated.
Florida and Texas: mask-free schoolchildren
At least nine states, including Florida and Texas have so far banned school districts from requiring masks in schools.
According to Sun-Sentinel, DeSantis also assured that he would call the state legislature into an emergency session if necessary. “We look forward to this upcoming year to be a normal school year, be in person and live and learn like normal kids,” he said.
“There’s been talk about potentially people advocating at the federal level imposing compulsory masks on kids. We’re not doing that in Florida. We need our kids to be able to be kids, we need them to be able to breathe,” he added.
DeSantis said the masks are “terribly” uncomfortable for children, that they restrict their breathing, and that “there’s not a lot of science behind that.” He also noted that “parents obviously can equip their kid to go to school however they want, but there shouldn’t be any coercive mandates on our schools.”
In Texas, Republican Governor Greg Abbott said the state will not require back-to-school facemasks. He added that it will be up to parents to decide whether to use masks for infants.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only vaccine licensed for children over 12 years of age, while Moderna and Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine can only be administered to adults.
The mandates related to mask use in children deviate from current CDC-driven guidance that states that fully vaccinated students and teachers do not need to wear a mask indoors or outdoors, while unvaccinated students and staff can go without a mask outdoors during gym and recess, but are recommended to wear indoors.