'Too early' to lift mask mandates in schools, AAP says
The Democratic governors of several states, including New Jersey and Delaware, announced this week that they will soon lift COVID-19 mask mandates in K-12 schools, joining other states that have already eliminated such measures.
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, who announced that his state’s mandate will end on Feb. 28, noted a “dramatic decline in cases caused by the omicron variant” and the fact that children aged 5 years and older have had months to get vaccinated.
“With this in mind, I think we are in a good position to phase out the requirement that masks be worn in all schools statewide and shift the determination on whether to require this to the local level,” Lamont said in a statement.
Other states will also allow individual districts and facilities to maintain mask mandates, if they choose.
Despite this shift, the AAP continues to recommend universal masking in schools. We had some questions for David L. Hill, MD, FAAP, an adjunct assistant professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, pediatric hospitalist at Wayne UNC Health Care and official spokesperson for the AAP.
Healio: Should states be lifting school mask mandates?
Hill: Although some states are lifting their mandates, I believe it’s too early from a public health standpoint. The trends in COVID-19 transmission are certainly encouraging, but in the vast majority of the country, the total infection and hospitalization rates are still quite high.
Healio: If not now, when?
Hill: Public health experts are working to identify criteria based on prevalence in given communities, vaccination rates and the transmissibility of the currently circulating SARS-CoV-2 variant. I would personally love to see us in a place within weeks or months when those indicators tell us that masking is no longer needed, but most experts would agree we’re not quite there yet. In the meantime, I’m just hoping that this newest BA.2 subvariant of omicron doesn’t put us right in the middle of yet another wave.
Healio: What if vaccines for children aged younger than 5 years are delayed further?
Hill: I would love to see strong data leading to rapid approval of COVID-19 vaccines for children aged younger than age 5 years. That said, I think that if community rates of COVID-19 fall far enough for everyone else, their risk may end up in the range of the acceptable. It’s one more reason not to take our feet off the brakes just yet.
Healio: What advice would you give school districts that are considering their own mask mandates in the absence of states mandates?
Hill: I would encourage those school districts to keep all their students and faculty as safe as possible as long as necessary. We’ve seen significant differences in COVID-19 transmission between schools with masking and those without. I know I feel better that my children attend schools with masking guidelines.
Healio: In the future, should school districts consider mask mandates during surges of other respiratory infections, like influenza?
Hill: I think that question deserves consideration, depending on the prevalence and severity of those infections. At the height of masking and social distancing, we saw the virtual disappearance of illnesses like influenza and respiratory syncytial virus that land children in the hospital and, in some cases, prove lethal. If we knew that wearing masks for a season could save babies’ lives, why wouldn’t we do it?