The Arizona Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ masking recommendations are at odds with a recent state law and executive order restricting Arizona schools from imposing mask mandates in classrooms. The nonprofit, which represents the views of 1,100 Arizona pediatric health care professionals, says all staff and students “greater than 2 years old” should wear face masks indoors at school, unless a medical or developmental condition prohibits masking.
AzAAP says masks are essential to protecting students because “a significant portion of the student population is not yet eligible for vaccination.” There is currently no COVID-19 vaccine for ages 11 and younger, although vaccine trials are underway. AzAAP also said universal masking is “the best and most effective strategy” to prevent the spread of COVID in schools, because the vaccine status of students, teachers and staff “is difficult to monitor.”
“Arizona’s decisions regarding return to school should be guided by data and science and take into consideration the current community spread of COVID-19,” the AzAAP said in a statement, adding the state should provide adequate funding to support school safety measures that follow American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Arizona Department of Health Services guidelines.
This week, in light of the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 that continues to spread rapidly in the United States, the CDC revised its masking guidelines to say even fully vaccinated people should wear masks indoors in areas where COVID transmission is high. The CDC continues to encourage ages 12 and up to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as the best way to end the pandemic and has never wavered from recommending that unvaccinated kids wear face masks in school. The new CDC guidelines went a step further by recommending “universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to K-12 schools regardless of vaccination status.”
State Superintendent of Education Kathy Hoffman has expressed frustration with Gov. Doug Ducey and state lawmakers for restricting schools from setting their own mitigation policies, such as mask mandates that follow national health guidelines. “I encourage teachers, administrators and families to listen to the CDC and take individual action to keep themselves and each other safe by wearing a mask during in-person school,” Hoffman said in a statement. “Students, teachers, and parents are ready to get back to in-person learning, but it takes all of us.”
The AzAAP further recommends:
- All eligible school staff and students should receive the COVID-19 vaccine to protect their health and reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
- In general, students and school staff do not need to wear masks when outdoors unless community transmission is high. The CDC recommends unvaccinated people wear a mask indoors and in crowded outdoor settings or during activities that involve sustained close contact with other people who are not fully vaccinated.
- Students, teachers, and staff should stay home when they have signs of any infectious illness and should consult with their healthcare provider regarding testing and care.
- Unvaccinated students and school staff who have been exposed to confirmed cases of COVID-19 should be expected to follow the quarantine recommendations of their local public health department.