The updated guidance promotes vaccination for those old enough and says vaccinated children may not need masks. What about kids too young for vaccines? And as summer begins, what about vacation risks?



The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention want students to have a normal or nearly normal return to the classroom in-person. The agency has issued updated guidance for K-12 schools, saying that fully vaccinated students and teachers don't have to wear masks. And they emphasize the importance of vaccinations for those who are old enough to get them. Health reporter Sheila Mulrooney Eldred has written about this for NPR's global health blog, Goats and Soda. She joins us now. Thanks for being with us.


SIMON: And please tell us more about these guidelines, beginning with the vaccination part.

MULROONEY ELDRED: Yes. It's clear that the CDC is really encouraging anyone who's eligible to get vaccinated before the school year starts. By the way, that would be if you got your first shot this weekend. The second would be July 31. And you'd be fully vaccinated on August 14. And that's getting close to back-to-school time. So they're promoting that now. They have not, however, said anything about requiring vaccination. They're saying that's a personal choice. They hope everyone sees the science and the evidence and chooses it. But they're not offering any guidance for schools on requiring vaccination, although, of course, some colleges have done so already.

SIMON: Of course, students who are 12 and under aren't eligible for COVID vaccines. What does the CDC say about what steps schools should take to keep students safe?

MULROONEY ELDRED: So they're recommending the same sort of layered prevention strategy that was in place in the spring. So that would mean physical distancing, masking, handwashing, etc. Now, the difference for this school year is that they are acknowledging that, in many situations, 3 feet of space may not be feasible in every school district. So they're saying that if that 3 feet is not feasible, then you can rely on the other prevention strategies.

SIMON: The other prevention strategies being masks, handwashing, that sort of thing?

MULROONEY ELDRED: Masks and handwashing and improved ventilation, of course, contact tracing, regular screening.

SIMON: Sheila, it's the middle of summer. Families are on trips. A lot of families, extended families are getting together for the first time in a year and a half. What can families and parents specifically do to try and protect their children from possible infection or passing on the virus to others?

MULROONEY ELDRED: Well, again, it's encouraging people in your family and the people you might be visiting to get vaccinated, everyone who's eligible. And in that way, you're creating sort of a cocoon around the kids who are too young to be able to do so.

I talked to Jill Weatherhead at Baylor in Houston about this. And she has two little kids. And they are traveling. And she recommends talking to your family about this ahead of time to avoid any awkward situations once you get there. You can plan your activities outside for people who may not be comfortable with indoor activities, depending on who in your group is vaccinated and who is not. But if you can encourage as many people as possible to be vaccinated, then you're lowering the risk for everyone.

SIMON: Would it be fair to say that the bottom line of the CDC guidelines is that they recognize, they believe that it's absolutely important for children get back to in-person learning, and that's a priority?

MULROONEY ELDRED: Yes, it's very clear that getting back to in-person learning is a priority. I think they're acknowledging some of the pain and suffering that kids and parents went through last year when they spent long chunks of time in distance learning.

SIMON: Health reporter Sheila Mulrooney Eldred, thanks so much for being with us.

MULROONEY ELDRED: Thanks so much.

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