In new guidance released Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that all students older than 2, as well as all school staff, should wear face masks at school unless medical or developmental conditions prohibit their use – but said that the benefits of in-person learning far outweigh the risks.
The leading pediatrician group recommends universal masking in schools for a number of reasons, including the fact that significant portion of the student population is not eligible for vaccination against COVID-19 – vaccines are only currently authorized in the U.S. for people 12 and up – as well as protecting those who are not vaccinated and reducing transmission.
Universal masking in schools will also have the added benefit of protecting students and faculty "against other respiratory illnesses that would take time away from school," the group wrote.
The AAP wrote in no uncertain terms that a return to in-person learning is vital after a year of remote learning in much of the country.
"Remote learning highlighted inequities in education, was detrimental to the educational attainment of students of all ages, and exacerbated the mental health crisis among children and adolescents," the group said, noting that opening schools for in-person learning "generally does not significantly increase community transmission" when following proper guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or World Health Organization (WHO).
"The AAP believes that, at this point in the pandemic, given what we know about low rates of in-school transmission when proper prevention measures are used, together with the availability of effective vaccines for those age 12 years and up, that the benefits of in-person school outweigh the risks in almost all circumstances," the guidance reads.
"We need to prioritize getting children back into schools alongside their friends and their teachers -- and we all play a role in making sure it happens safely," Sonja O’Leary, chair of the AAP Council on School Health, said in a statement.
"The pandemic has taken a heartbreaking toll on children, and it’s not just their education that has suffered but their mental, emotional and physical health," O’Leary continued. "Combining layers of protection that include vaccinations, masking and clean hands hygiene will make in-person learning safe and possible for everyone."