Virginia officials are recommending that schools put in place face mask mandates for their students and staff as schools prepare to open their doors this fall.
The state’s departments of health and education on Wednesday said elementary schools should require all students, teachers and staff to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, until COVID-19 shots are available for children under 12 years old. For middle and high schools, the departments advise that students, teachers and staff who are not fully vaccinated wear masks indoors at a minimum.
“All schools may want to consider universal masking for specific reasons as outlined in certain circumstances by the CDC,” the departments said in a news release about the updated school guidance. “All schools should be prepared to adjust local mask policies as local public health conditions evolve throughout the year.”
The statewide public health order issued during the earlier days of the pandemic is in effect until Sunday and won’t be extended, allowing school districts to implement local mask policies based on the conditions of their communities.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said in a statement the state has “followed the science throughout this pandemic” and will continue to do so. He said the school guidance takes into account advice from both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics and urged eligible residents to get vaccinated.
Health officials have offered conflicting advice about the use of masks in school. CDC officials have said that it is unnecessary for vaccinated students and teachers to wear masks inside buildings. However, the AAP announced earlier this week that everyone over age 2 should wear masks inside classrooms.
The updated guidance also recommends that physical distancing of at least three feet “should be maximized to the greatest extent possible but schools should not reduce in-person learning to keep a minimum distance requirement.”
For the 2021-2022 school year, all schools in Virginia are mandated to offer in-person instruction to all students.