The Biden administration on Friday pushed for mask mandates in all U.S. schools as health officials criticized districts and states which have put a premium on individual choice, rather than follow government guidelines in the classroom.
Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lashed out at districts that continue to ignore her agency’s recommendation that all faculty, staff and students be masked, regardless of vaccine status. She blamed those schools for a surge in COVID cases nationwide while never mentioning the country’s opened southern border, which is believed to be a hotspot for rising infections.
The CDC head urged “layered prevention measures,” including “universal masking,” vaccines, hand washing and ventilation in classrooms where parents have a choice on COVID mitigation strategies. Walensky said that an increase in cases among young people justified the anxiety over the subject.
“We recognize and are closely following cases and hospitalizations in children at the same time as school reopening,” Walensky said during a virtual briefing White House briefing.
“In our outbreak investigations, large-scale quarantines or large numbers of cases are generally occurring in schools because schools are not following our guidance, particularly our recommendations for teachers as well as students age 12 and older to be vaccinated and for everyone, right now, to be masked.”
The CDC director cautioned that people who oppose masks for children need to “do the right thing.”
“I want to strongly appeal to those districts who have not implemented prevention strategies and encourage them to do the right thing to protect the children under their care,” she added.
Walensky did not miss out on the chance to champion the Biden administration’s nearly $2 trillion American Rescue Plan package, which passed in March and included funds for schools to reopen.
“We know these multi-layered mitigation strategies work, and thanks to the American Rescue Plan, schools have the resources to implement these strategies,” she said of universal masking.
She also signaled her agency has no plans to reverse guidance asking those who are vaccinated to wear masks.
“We are not looking at updating our school guidance right now, I can tell you that most of the places where we’re seeing surges and outbreaks are in places that are not implementing our current guidance,” she said.
Walensky touted a CDC study that claims infection rates in California schools that require masks and social distancing are much lower than in schools that do not require children to cover their faces.
“Schools should implement as many of these prevention layers as possible simultaneously,” Walensky said. “And this serves to protect our children, even if there are inevitable breaches in any single protection layer.”
The CDC earlier this month began recommending that children as young as 12 years old get vaccinated.
“Although fewer children have been infected with COVID-19 compared to adults,” the CDC said that children can “be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19,” get sick and spread COVID.
“CDC recommends everyone 12 years and older should get a COVID-19 vaccination to help protect against COVID-19,” the agency said. “Widespread vaccination is a critical tool to help stop the pandemic.”
“People who are fully vaccinated can resume activities that they did prior to the pandemic,” the CDC added. “Children 12 years and older are able to get the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine.”
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