Fully COVID-19 vaccinated teachers, students and staff would not need to wear masks this fall, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a Friday mask update for K-12 schools.
But “masks should be worn indoors by all individuals (age 2 and older) who are not fully vaccinated,” according to the CDC.
That said, Florida is already ahead of the mask target, educators say, even as more than a million students younger than 12 will not be vaccinated in the fall and a contagious variant called Delta has been surging in many parts of the country, including in Florida.
Many Florida school districts have already dropped their mask policies or plan to discontinue them in the upcoming school year. Some districts never had a mask policy and others are pursuing a mask-optional approach, educators say.
In Florida’s Panhandle in Escambia County, Darzell Warren, president of the Escambia Education Association, said school officials in April decided masks won’t be required in the fall but they would be optional.
Warren thinks that the CDC’s new announcement indicates to some teachers a “sense of normalcy,” though some may choose to exercise caution.
“There’s still a lot that still feel comfortable wearing a mask and would probably want their students to wear them, but here in Escambia County, that decision was made for it to be optional,” Warren told the Phoenix.
In the state capital, Superintendent of Leon County schools Rocky Hanna said in a Facebook announcement that “vaccinated or not, masks would become optional” as of June 14.
Other school districts, such as Miami-Dade in South Florida and Hillsborough in Tampa Bay, have already decided that masks would not be required in the 2021-22 school year, according to local news sources.
Polk school officials last month decided to lift mask requirements and make them optional, according to an email to the Phoenix.
Other school districts never had a mask mandate in place during the 2020-21 school year, such as Washington County school district in the Panhandle or the Hamilton County school district in Northeast Florida.
Orange County in Central Florida is considering an end to their mask policy in August, according to ClickOrlando.
But there are still concerns about whether it is safe to make these changes to mask protocols.
The CDC’s priority for the fall is that students should be in traditional brick and mortar classrooms and learning safely, and that COVID vaccines are the top strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the CDC.
So far, only students 12 and older are authorized to get the COVID vaccines.
Warren from Escambia expressed concern about what’s known as the Delta variant, a mutation of COVID that is more transmissible than other variants of COVID-19.
She said that teachers should “keep an eye on the numbers” as we head into the upcoming school year.
“They’re excited about having the opportunity to be able to have this sense of normalcy, not wearing a mask,” she told the Phoenix, “but I think they also need to still be careful and still be vigilant because we cannot assume that everyone has been vaccinated.”
In addition to the mask guidance, the CDC recommends that “schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms, combined with indoor mask wearing by people who are not fully vaccinated, to reduce transmission risk.”