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Adopting CDC guidance, Colorado recommends everyone wear masks in school settings

Young boy wearing a mask sits at a desk.

Unlike last school year, districts are taking a range of approaches to mask policies.

Rachel Ellis / The Denver Post

Colorado public health officials have adopted CDC recommendations that everyone in school settings should wear masks, especially those who are not vaccinated.

However, school districts will still set their own mask policies, and the state isn’t requiring masks for anyone.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released its updated school guidance late Friday evening, three days after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed their own recommendations

The state’s previous guidance recommended but did not require masks for unvaccinated people in school settings.  

“We all want children to be back at school and as safe as possible. Masks will help us slow the spread of the delta variant and avoid school closures,” State Epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy said in a press release announcing the shift. “Masks are an added layer of protection, as we hope that even more children ages 12+ will get vaccinated.”

Already, districts around the state have adopted a range of approaches, from making masks optional to requiring them only for the unvaccinated to requiring them for everyone in school buildings. 

While the state guidance is just that — a recommendation — it may provide backup to local officials who want to implement stricter mask policies in the face of public pressure from some parents to abandon COVID-era health protocols.  

With just weeks to go before the start of school, many districts, including the state’s largest, Denver Public Schools, still haven’t announced their mask policies. 

The more than 300 parents who responded to a Chalkbeat survey were sharply divided, with some parents wanting to keep most of the safety precautions from last school year, especially given risks posed by the delta variant, and others wanting to get rid of all safety protocols other than keeping sick children home from school. Those who opposed masks said they affected children’s mental health and ability to communicate.

Earlier in the week, Amie Baca-Oehlert, president of the Colorado Education Association, the state teachers union, said she expected Colorado to let districts set their own policies, but she hopes that most districts take the CDC guidance seriously.

“We believe that implementing the CDC guidance is what provides the maximum chance of having in-person learning, which is what our members want and what we believe is best for students,” she said.

State health officials report that 3.4 million people — about 54% of the state’s population — are fully vaccinated and about half of 12- to 18-year-olds have been vaccinated. Children younger than 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccine.

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