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Back-to-School: AAP recommends universal masking for all older than 2 years old

As we begin back to school shopping, you might want to add face masks back to the shopping list. While Tampa Bay Area school districts have made face masks optional as of right now for the 2021-2022 school year, the updated guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics is suggesting otherwise.

In an announcement on Monday, the AAP is recommending in-person learning along with a “layered approach” to keep kids and staff safe, including “a recommendation that everyone older than age 2 wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.”

You can read the AAP’s updated guidance here.

The AAP points out that research has shown reopening schools does not increase community transmission when measures like universal masking and other safeguards are put into place.

Among those safeguards: urging all individuals who are eligible to get vaccinated, proper ventilation, testing, quarantining, and proper cleaning and disinfecting. 

“There are many children and others who cannot be vaccinated,” said Sara Bode, MD, FAAP, chair-person elect of the AAP Council on School Health Executive Committee. “This is why it’s important to use every tool in our toolkit to safeguard children from COVID-19. Universal masking is one of those tools, and has been proven effective in protecting people against other respiratory diseases, as well. It’s also the most effective strategy to create consistent messages and expectations among students without the added burden of needing to monitor everyone’s vaccination status.”

What a Tampa Bay Area doctor has to say about kids and masks:

We recently asked Dr. Allison Messina, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, for guidance on what parents should do about sending their child to school this year.

This was a few days before the AAP’s new guidance was released, but she echoes the importance of masking, especially among individuals like children under 12 years old who are not eligible for the vaccine at this time.

TBPM: My child’s school does not require students to wear a face mask. Should they still wear one?

Dr. Messina:  “Per CDC guidelines, it continues to be the recommendation that persons ages 2 and older who are not fully vaccinated for COVID-19 wear a mask when in an indoor, public space. This would apply to school classrooms. Masks should fit snugly around the nose and chin with no large gaps around the sides of the face. If cloth masks are worn, they would be made with tightly woven fabrics which do not let light through when held up to the light. They should have 2 or three layers of fabric. Alternatively, a single use, disposable medical procedure mask could be worn as well. If this type of mask is chosen it still needs to fit correctly. Small, disposable procedure masks are available in child sizes.”

TBPM: What are the concerns about the Delta variant and kids?

Dr. Messina: “The Delta variant of the SARS CoV 2 virus is more contagious than the virus that was circulating last year. Those who are unvaccinated (including children) are more likely to catch this virus from others and they are more likely to spread it, too.”

TBPM: What are some other steps parents can take to keep their children healthy and prevent illness?

Dr. Messina: “Do not send your child to school if they are sick. Even if they have mild cold symptoms, discuss with their pediatrician to see if they need to be tested for COVID before sending to school. Continue to encourage handwashing. In households with children too young to be vaccinated, encourage the older members of the family to get vaccinated. Most children catch COVID from the adults around them. Be sure children are up to date on all of their other vaccines, including the yearly vaccine for influenza.”

Other recommendations released Monday by the American Academy of Pediatrics (from AAP press release):

  • Schools should be prepared to adopt an all-encompassing approach for mental health support. 
  • Adequate and timely COVID-19 testing resources must be available and accessible.
  • Strategies should be revised and adapted depending on the level of viral transmission and test positivity rate throughout the community and schools..
  • School policies should be adjusted to align with new information about the pandemic; administrators should refine approaches when specific policies are not working.[i] 
  • School districts must be in close communication and coordinate with state and/or local public health authorities, school nurses, local pediatric practitioners, and other medical experts.

The AAP is also urging families to talk to their pediatrician and make sure their child is up to date on all of their vaccinations as some may have missed their appointments due to the pandemic. 

“The last thing we want as we come out of this pandemic is an outbreak of another vaccine-preventable disease,” Dr. O’Leary said. “Now is the time for all of us to work together to keep our kids healthy and safe. Your pediatrician can help families who have any questions or concerns about returning to the classroom.”

Laura Byrne
Laura Byrne
Laura Byrne is an award-winning former television news journalist who spent 15+ years in newsrooms across the state of Florida including Sarasota, Tallahassee, Fort Myers and right here in Tampa Bay where she still freelances on occasion. She covered the political beat, crime beat and every day breaking news during her time in Florida newsrooms, but is now focused on sharing positive news stories and events with families in Tampa Bay. She is a proud mommy of two little boys who keep her on her toes and laughing every day. Her goal is to inspire families just like yours to get out and play and experience all that Tampa Bay and our great state of Florida have to offer! She encourages you to share your stories and upcoming events so we can spread the good news.

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