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CDC updates guidance on wearing masks in schools

According to updated guidance published Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fully vaccinated teachers and students no longer have to wear masks in school.

Mask use is still recommended for unvaccinated people. The CDC previously recommended mask use for all teachers and students, which is why North Carolina officials made it a requirement.

“Mask use is recommended (indoors) for people who are not fully vaccinated including students, teachers, and staff,” the updated guidance reads. “Children under 2 years of age should not wear a mask. In general, people do not need to wear masks when outdoors. However, particularly in areas of substantial to high transmission, CDC recommends that people who are not fully vaccinated wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings or during activities that involve sustained close contact with other people who are not fully vaccinated.

“When teachers, staff, and students who are not fully vaccinated consistently and correctly wear a mask, they protect others as well as themselves. Consistent and correct mask use by people who are not fully vaccinated is especially important indoors and in crowded settings, when physical distancing cannot be maintained.”

The updated guidance gives North Carolina an opportunity to remove its mask mandate for high schools and middle schools. It can’t be lifted for any grades below that because no vaccines have been approved for children younger than 12. The Pfizer vaccine is the only one approved for ages 12-17.

Senate Bill 173, the Free The Smiles Act, passed the N.C. House in June but was rejected by the Senate so it could be sent to a concurrence committee.

The bill currently says “the governing board of any public school unit or any nonpublic school shall have the exclusive authority to determine the use of face coverings, and any appropriate exceptions to those requirements, during the instructional day on the campus of the public school unit or nonpublic school… .”

As of Thursday, 11% of Beaufort County residents ages 12-17 had been at least partially vaccinated.

The updated guidance recommends that schools promote COVID-19 vaccines. It doesn’t mention anything about vaccine mandates.