Schools with Covid outbreaks aren’t following mask, vaccine guidance

Children participate in an activity in class at the Xavier Academy on August 23, 2021 in Houston, Texas. In-person classroom teaching is resuming, and schools in the Houston area are requiring masking requirements that meet CDC guidelines.

Brandon Bell | Getty Images

CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Friday that recently reopened schools already struggling with large-scale Covid outbreaks are generally not following federal guidelines that recommend that students and staff wear masks indoors and get vaccinated if necessary.

Covid pediatric hospital admissions in the U.S. were at their highest reported levels this week, and Walensky said districts with inadequate security will have school closings to block the virus from spreading to the community. At a Covid-19 briefing at the White House, Walensky urged schools to take a layered approach that also includes social distancing, improved ventilation, and Covid testing to prevent outbreaks.

“I would like to make a strong appeal to the districts that have not implemented prevention strategies and encourage them to do the right thing to protect the children they are caring for,” said Walensky. “Our outbreak investigations usually involve large-scale quarantines or a large number of cases in schools because the schools do not follow our instructions.”

Walensky, who did not name school districts, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was investigating an outbreak in northern California where an unvaccinated, symptomatic teacher read without a mask in a class and spread the virus to students, staff and their families. And in Florida, Hillsborough County Public Schools reported this month that nearly 10,400 students and nearly 340 staff have been in isolation or quarantine after close contact with a positive Covid case.

The CDC also looked at Covid measures in Los Angeles County, where prevention strategies kept the fall rate in schools lower than the fall rate in the county. The number of cases in children and adolescents in schools with Covid reduction protocols was more than three times lower than the number of cases in the community last winter, Walensky said.

Walensky added that the CDC has seen an increase in pediatric Covid cases and hospital admissions in recent weeks, due to the increased portability of the Delta variant.

“Schools should implement as many of these levels of prevention as possible at the same time, and this is to protect our children even if there are inevitable violations at a single level,” said Walensky.

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