Back to School Face Mask Usage
August 19, 2021
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our communities, the impending start of the 2021-2022 school year necessitates continued COVID-conscious planning by parents and students.
Over the summer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued updated guidance on face mask usage, including the recommendation for universal indoor masking by all students (age 2 and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.
This guidance for universal indoor masking regardless of vaccination status was made in response to evolving understanding of the COVID-19 Delta variant. The Delta variant is significantly more infectious than previous strains of the virus, as contagious as the chicken pox. Delta may also carry with it greater risk for serious illness and potential hospitalization. The increased risk of infection, coupled with the current absence of an authorized COVID-19 vaccine for children under 12 years of age, warrants a return to more stringent COVID precautions.
As we await authorization for vaccination for individuals under age 12, masking by all individuals in all public indoor spaces, including school-based settings, is our best defense to protect our children against COVID-19 and emerging variants.
Vaccinated Individuals, Adults and Students Age 12+
While currently available COVID-19 vaccines have demonstrated strong effectiveness in preventing severe illness and hospitalization, we are learning more about the strength of defense against mild and non-symptomatic infection and transmission. Based on the information available and to best protect those who are currently unable to receive vaccination, vaccinated individuals should resume masking in all indoor public spaces, including school and child care settings.
Unvaccinated Individuals, Adults and Students under Age 12
Currently, there are no COVID-19 vaccines approved to protect children under the age of 12. While many infections among children may have been asymptomatic or have resulted in less severe illness with previous COVID variants, the Delta variant may potentially carry a higher risk of symptomatic infection and potential severe illness.
Until there is a vaccine available for all age groups, continued masking is critical to protect children under age 12 and vulnerable individuals who are otherwise unable to receive vaccination. Any unvaccinated person over the age of 2 should wear a mask in all indoor settings outside of your own home, including school and child care settings.
Persons with Previous COVID Infection
While prior COVID-19 infection does provide a level of natural immunity against COVID, current studies indicate this immunity is shorter-lived than immunity from vaccination. Vaccination among those who have also previously had COVID-19 strengthens and prolongs any existing immunity. Vaccination is appropriate and encouraged for persons who have had COVID-19. As with vaccinated individuals, wearing of face masks is the best practice to both protect yourself and those around you.
As we continue to navigate this pandemic and prepare for approval of COVID-19 vaccinations for children under the age of 12, it is understandable that parents and families have questions. Iowa’s physician community stands ready to help you make sense of it all. If you or a family member have not yet received your vaccination, speak with your family’s care provider about your individual health circumstances, the COVID-19 vaccines, and how best to keep your family safe.