American Academy of Pediatrics: Universal masking in schools will protect kids from COVID-19
The American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending all students, teachers and staff members wear masks inside schools when classes resume, to protect unvaccinated children from COVID-19 and reduce transmissions.
Children 11 and younger are not eligible for COVID-19 vaccines yet.
"There are many children and others who cannot be vaccinated," said Dr. Sara Bode, incoming chairwoman of the organization's Council on School Health Executive Committee. "This is why it's important to use every tool in our tool kit to safeguard children."
"Universal masking is one of those tools, and has been proven effective in protecting people against other respiratory diseases, as well," Bode said Monday in a statement.
The highly respected national organization of pediatricians also is encouraging all students 12 and older to get vaccinated.
The recommendation comes as several suburban school districts -- including Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211, McHenry Elementary District 15 and Wheaton Community Unit District 200 -- have adopted optional masking policies.
Those decisions came amid pushback from some parents who have demanded educators drop masks, saying they're not necessary or that cases of COVID-19 are not that serious in children.
"While we've seen data that children are not getting as sick as adults, children can still can get sick and can have long-haul symptoms just like adults," said Dr. Alison S. Tothy, an associate professor of pediatrics and pediatric emergency medicine at University of Chicago Medicine.
Meanwhile, other school districts say they want more definitive guidelines from the Illinois Department Public Health and Illinois State Board of Education.
Last week, a group of Wheaton parents protested District 200's actions, saying voluntary masking puts younger children's health in jeopardy.
The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that more than 4 million children have tested positive for COVID-19, 16,756 were hospitalized and 346 have died from the virus in the U.S.
The group's experts also noted studies show it's crucial for kids to learn in person rather than remotely.
Along with an increase in virus cases, hospitalizations and the emergence of the highly contagious COVID-19 delta variant, it's crucial for districts to take a common-sense approach that includes masking, washing hands and encouraging vaccinations to "make in-person learning safe and possible for everyone," academy officials said.
Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital Medical Director Michael Bauer said the most important thing is to get kids back in school.
"Right now, with the way (COVID-19) numbers are going, which is in the wrong direction, I think the AAP is trying to put in place some extra safeguards -- be very cautious, playing it safe," said Bauer, a pediatrician.
Asked what best practices are for school districts, Bauer advised, "Follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidelines -- and science."
The CDC policy "hasn't changed -- every unvaccinated person over age 2 should wear a mask when they're indoors, and social distance," Bauer said.
He added, "I don't know anyone who likes wearing a mask, but in the vast majority, it's a bigger deal for parents than it is for a child."
Asked why all students were included in the advisory, Tothy said that "schools do not have any system in place to be able to successfully track everyone's vaccine and make sure only the kids who are vaccinated are choosing not to mask. That is so imaginably insurmountable."