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Following the science vs. looking at logistics: Why school mask guidance differs

school masks

MADISON (WKOW) -- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released new guidance for schools Monday, recommending everyone, regardless of their vaccination status, wears a mask when students return to classes in the fall. At first glance, the move might seem to contradict the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that people who are fully vaccinated can safely stop wearing masks.

But UW Health's Dr. Jeff Pothof said the AAP recommendation doesn't mean the CDC guidance is outdated or unsafe.

"The CDC is recommending masking for those who are unvaccinated, and, by the pure science of it, that's an okay recommendation," he said. "We know that folks who are vaccinated get good protection against even the delta variant, which is going to be the dominant strain as our kids go back to school."

He said the AAP's new recommendation is driven more by practicality.

"Logistically, it's really difficult to determine which kids are vaccinated and which kids aren't," he said. "The AAP is saying 'You know what, like, just to make it easy, maybe we all need to put a mask on.'"

Pothof said parents of vaccinated kids shouldn't worry about their risk of getting severely sick from COVID-19. He said the AAP recommendation is a move that will offer more protection to kids who haven't gotten their shot yet.

"The masking for all recommendation is to protect those who are unvaccinated not to add additional benefit to those who are vaccinated," he said.

Pothof said that protection would extend to a large number of students. Kids younger than 12 aren't eligible to get vaccinated yet, and many older students still aren't fully vaccinated.

"When we look at those who are 12 and older, vaccination rates are not super robust," Pothof said. "Here in the Dane County area just over 50% [are fully vaccinated]. So, many of those kids are also at risk."

Pothof said as the delta variant continues to spread, school leaders should be prepared to reconsider mask policy decisions.

"The rules have changed," he said. "The game is different. Delta variant is in the equation. Those decisions that school boards and school leaders made even at the end of last school year, they're based on antiquated data, and they need to be re-evaluated."