All students and school staff in the cities of Atlanta and Chicago will be required to wear masks upon return to the classroom this fall, regardless of vaccination status, state officials said Thursday.
Chicago Public Schools Interim Chief Executive Officer José Torres said in a letter to parents on Thursday that the decision was made based on recommendations from local, state and federal public health experts.
“Continuing to require masks will help make sure those in our school communities who are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, which encompasses the majority of our students, remain as safe as possible,” Torres said in his letter.
The letter also outlines further measures such as enforcing social distancing in the classroom and cafeteria from Aug. 30, when classes will resume for in-person learning in the Illinois city.
Torres said in a statement that the measures will “keep our communities safe while providing our students the high-quality, in-person education they deserve.”
Separately, in Georgia, Atlanta Public Schools announced the same day that it will implement a “universal mask wearing” policy in all of the system’s school buildings when classes resume on Aug. 5.
Officials in making the announcement said that just 18 percent of eligible students in the school system are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, while 58 percent of the school system’s employees have said they are either fully vaccinated or plan to be.
While a similar mask mandate was announced for the state of California on July 12, officials shortly later updated guidance to suggest the decision would be left to local schools. Several school districts have said that they will not enforce the policy.
Other U.S. states that currently require students to wear masks in schools include Washington, New Mexico, Illinois, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, and Hawaii, according to technology company Burbio.
It comes amid a reported recent increase in COVID-19 cases caused by the Delta variant of the CCP virus, which is believed to be more transmissible than other versions and is quickly becoming the leading COVID-19 strain in many countries.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on July 6 that the Delta variant is now likely the dominant strain in the United States, currently accounting for more than half of all recorded COVID-19 cases.
A CDC spokesperson said that the variant’s prevalence in the United States has grown to 51.7 percent of all cases during the period from June 20 to July 3, from 30.4 percent for the period ending June 19.
Researchers have previously said it’s too early to say whether the Delta variant is more or less deadly than other CCP virus variants. Correspondence published in The Lancet in June suggested that the chance of hospitalization may be higher with the Delta variant compared to the earlier Alpha variant.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on July 19 issued updated guidelines for school reopening, urging all staff and children over the age of 2 to wear masks in schools, regardless of vaccination status.
The AAP said that the policy would protect the unvaccinated, as much of the student population is not yet eligible for vaccines.
Senators in New Jersey, meanwhile, held a hearing earlier this month to explore the efficacy and negative effects of forcing children to wear face masks in schools; they said they think the scientific evidence doesn’t support such mandates.
Children under the age of 12 aren’t currently eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, according to the CDC. President Joe Biden told a town hall in Cincinnati on July 21 that children of that age group would be able to get vaccinated “soon.”
Both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech started trials of their COVID-19 vaccines for children under 12 in March, the results of which are expected from the pharmaceutical companies in the fall.