The Delta variant is feeding new surges in COVID-19 cases around the country weeks before school starts. On top of that, the majority of students in K-12 education are still not eligible for vaccines.
Even though the CDC released guidelines earlier this month easing mask policies in schools, nothing was binding. As with most masking and vaccination policies, states have been left to set their own rules.
This can put superintendents of school districts in a tricky spot. In Rhode Island, some superintendents wish there was a state-level requirement so they didn’t have to be stuck in the middle of parents’ conflicting views. Other states fall on opposite ends of the extremes. In California, all students and teachers are required to wear masks, but in Texas, schools are banned from setting mask requirements. Vermont is an interesting case because, having reached an 80% vaccination status, schools can no longer require masking for any student, even the unvaccinated ones.
In New York, state Gov. Andrew Cuomo said last week that he’s leaving any mask mandates and rules up to local governments but suggested that they follow the CDC’s new masking guidelines that state that people should wear masks indoors in public areas due to the easy transmission of the Delta variant. He also suggested that local governments make vaccines mandatory in schools and public hospitals and that teachers be subjected to weekly COVID-19 tests if they don’t want to get the vaccine.
“The vaccine is the weapon that will win the war against COVID, but too many still have not taken advantage of its availability,” stated Cuomo. “Every single unvaccinated individual provides the virus an opportunity to mutate into a strain that may be even more harmful than those that came before it. The vaccine is free, accessible and effective, so if you haven’t already, get yours today.”
Currently, the CDC recommends that students maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance from each other within classrooms and also wear masks indoors, especially for those who are unvaccinated. The agency also suggested layering different transmission prevention rules on top of each other if schools can’t open because of spatial issues.
With the Delta variant assisting in the increase of COVID infections, there’s fear that the positivity rate would be above 5% by the time the school year rolls around. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the educational show will go on.
“School will open September 13th, and it’s imperative to the health and safety of our kids that they’d be in a place that provides them everything they need,” said the mayor during a news briefing this week. “…We made New York City public schools safe with really intensive health and safety measures, including everyone wearing a mask in the school, which will continue. Well, now we have 10 million vaccination doses since that time and a high level of vaccination among our school employees.”
However, the U.S. Department of Transportation said masking is universally mandatory on school buses, but South Carolina’s Department of Education said students riding state-owned buses will no longer be required to mask up.
Here’s a look at how schools across the country are handling masks for the upcoming 2021/2022 school year: the situation is changing daily, and the map will be updated.