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Virginia to provide guidance on masks in schools amid new recommendations

Teachers union calling for masks to be worn at all times in school
Posted at 3:50 PM, Jul 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-20 18:24:18-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- For the first time since January, all 50 states are reporting a rise in COVID-19 infection rates, leaving families and school officials with questions looking towards the fall when many students will go back to school.

New guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that masks be worn in schools by everyone two years of age or older, even if they have been vaccinated. The group said that this recommendation is part of a layered approach to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Virginians will soon receive guidance from the Commonwealth regarding the questions on masks in the classrooms. A spokesperson for Governor Ralph Northam says the Departments of Health and Education will release updated guidance on masks in schools on Wednesday.

Guidance will come as the current order from the State's Health Commissioner expires on July 25, which requires everyone over the age of five to wear a mask inside a school, regardless of vaccination status.

The spokesperson adds that Northam has followed the science throughout the pandemic and that's what they'll continue to do with this guidance.

Earlier this month, the CDC updated its guidance for schools, only recommending masks for people over the age of two who are not fully vaccinated. However, it said that localities could choose to mandate if there are circumstances such as low vaccination rates or high spread in their community.

Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU pediatrician Dr. Tiffany Kimbrough says the two recommendations are complementary and have the goal of making it safe for children to return to in-person learning.

"We've just seen how, you know, the virtual learning, especially for young kids, has had academic, emotional and mental health impacts," Kimbrough said.

She adds that the CDC said that local officials can choose to go all-masks if their circumstances necessitate it.

"Recognizing that variants are a possibility and that the local, what's happening
at the local level, may not be the same as what's happening at the national level," Kimbrough said.

Dr. Melissa Viray with the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts said that the recommendation from AAP has a lot to do with the problem that 12-years-old is the youngest approved age for the COVID-19 vaccine.

"We have a large cohort of unvaccinated. We don't always know who's vaccinated, who's not. We can't always track these things. If you have, you know, you're in a mixed-age, you have 11- and 12-year-olds in the same classroom, how is that going to work? You know, how are you going to make sure that you're being effective in your masking. And so, from an implementation standpoint, it might just be better to go throughout," Viray said.

Viray adds that regardless of what Virginia releases for its updated guidelines, what it says should be considered the minimum and each locality should decide independently if they want or need to take further precautions.