What should schools do when two major health-related groups conflict on how to handle the face-mask issue as the new academic year looms and the COVID-19 pandemic continues?
Miami-Dade County Schools and other districts in Florida will have to figure that out, because this week, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all school teachers, staff and students age 2 and older and heading into the 2021-22 school year should continue to wear masks indoors at schools, regardless of COVID vaccination status.
The academy’s recommendation conflicts with a recent update from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which states that masks should be worn indoors only by all individuals who are age 2 and older, who are not fully vaccinated.
So the difference is vaccines. The CDC is essentially saying that vaccinated people don’t need masks.
The debate comes as a surge of variants — particularly the Delta variant — are threating residents and Florida is dealing with an increase in the number of new cases, positivity rates and hospitalizations
Meanwhile, many school districts – including Miami-Dade - have already ditched mask mandates in favor of mask-optional policies. Some school districts never required masks even for the 2020-21 school year.
The Sunday update from the American Academy of Pediatric says that if there’s no COVID vaccine approved for students under the age of 12, and because it may be difficult for school districts to track vaccine status among students and teachers, everyone over the age of two should wear a mask in-doors at schools.
In Miami-Dade, the new school year starts August 23 and thousands of Miami and Florida students will not be vaccinated by the start of the fall semester of the 2021-22 school year because there’s no vaccine for kids under the age of 12.
Meanwhile, some Florida school districts decided to make masks optional before either the CDC or the American Academy of Pediatrics released their mask recommendations for the upcoming school year.
It’s not yet clear if there will be a problem among Florida school districts as they navigate contradictory mask recommendations from two national health organizations, or if the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation that all staff and students where masks will affect current plans to make mask optional for the next school year.
Parts of this report appeared on the website of the Florida Phoenix, a nonprofit news organization dedicated to coverage of state government and politics from Tallahassee.