On Thursday, May 13, the CDC and Governor Inslee released new information about the relaxation of face-covering requirements for fully vaccinated individuals. Based on what the medical community now knows about COVID-19 vaccines, people who have been fully vaccinated can resume activities without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart, except where required by federal, state, and local rules and regulations – including local business and workplace guidance.
Shortly after the release of information by the CDC and Governor Inslee, school leaders received a message from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction with updated guidance from the Washington State Dept. of Health regarding changes to K-12 policy. The email from State School Superintendent Chris Reykdal clarified that the announcements from the CDC and Governor do not have an immediate impact on mitigation strategies being used in schools (distancing, face coverings, screening, hand hygiene).
Furthermore, the document from the Dept. of Health (K-12 COVID-19 Requirements for Summer 2021 and the 2021-22 School Year – also available below), clarifies that at this time, “…all students, school personnel, volunteers, and visitors must wear cloth face coverings or an acceptable alternative at school when indoors, as well as when outdoors where a minimum of six feet distancing cannot be maintained.“
A few items were highlighted in the State’s email to local school leaders:
- OSPI and the Washington State Department of Health recognize the need for schools to engage in advance planning (work related to putting necessary staffing and structures in place for the upcoming school year). Based on changes to the trajectory of the virus and the success of vaccine efforts, the DOH will periodically update their protocols and requirements to reflect currently accepted safety guidance. It is likely the DOH guidance will be updated over the summer prior to the start of the school year.
- Flexible language in the guidance related to physical distancing (i.e., “to the greatest extent possible” and “to the degree possible and reasonable”) ensures schools are able to provide full-time in-person instruction to every student and family who wants it. Distance less than 6 feet in common areas and less than 3 feet in classrooms is allowable in order to accommodate students and staff.
- Screening protocols, notification of public health officials, enhanced personal hygiene and cleaning processes will continue to play an important role in the 2021-22 school year.
We acknowledge that this information will be frustrating to many; honestly, it’s frustrating to us as well. There are a significant number of people who work in our schools who can’t imagine starting another school year dealing with the challenges of trying to connect with kids and provide a great education from behind a face covering. Unfortunately, while schools have been provided with some flexibility in certain areas, at this time the Dept. of Health will continue to require use of face coverings while inside the school building – leaders of local school districts (superintendents/school boards) do not have the authority to adopt local policies that are contrary to – less restrictive than – requirements of the State Dept. of Health.
In the weeks ahead, we will continue to work with the DOH and OSPI about the possibility of relaxing masking requirements for vaccinated individuals. Clearly, the trajectory of the virus and the success of vaccination efforts will have some impact on final decisions prior to the start of the 2021-22 school year.
For now, we encourage you to visit https://www.vaccines.gov/ to find a location where you can receive the COVID-19 vaccine at no cost. Earlier this week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expanded authorization for the Pfizer vaccine to children 12 to 15. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which is the gold standard for clinical guidance, voted to recommend Pfizer to the younger age group. Once final approval is issued by the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, Washington State will expand eligibility and encourage everyone 12 and older to get vaccinated.
We’ll continue to pass along new information as it becomes available.