The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Feb. 25 it is no longer requiring students and others on school buses to wear masks, but is keeping the mask mandate for all other forms of public transportation in place.
Effective Friday, “CDC does not require wearing of masks on buses or vans operated by public or private school systems, including early care and education/child care programs,” the agency said in an update on its website.
The CDC typically only doles out guidance but under federal law, a top official at the agency on Jan. 29, 2021, issued an order requiring masks on “public transportation conveyances” and at “transportation hubs.”
The order covers airplanes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, buses, and taxis traveling within the United States, or leaving or entering the country. It also covers airports and other transportation hubs such as bus terminals.
The CDC on June 10, 2021, said it was exempting people from wearing masks outdoors while on a conveyance or at a hub, the only change it had announced before Friday’s update.
“School systems at their discretion may choose to require that people wear masks on buses or vans,” the CDC said.
The agency didn’t respond to emailed questions, but said it was exempting school buses and others buses and vans linked to children to align with masking guidance it updated earlier in the day.
CDC officials abruptly switched earlier Friday from using a counting method that painted 95 percent of the country as under high or substantial risk from COVID-19 to one that counts just 37 percent at high risk, with none at substantial risk.
In the counties not deemed at high risk, the CDC no longer recommends mask-wearing in indoor public settings.
The change is important because the risk assessment was cited by many local officials when they imposed or extended mask mandates.
Even before the changes, a number of school districts and counties said they were halting masking requirements. Later, additional mandates were rescinded.
“Effective today, the CDC no longer requires wearing masks on buses operated by public school systems. As such, masks will now be optional for students and adults on PWCS school buses,” Prince William County Public Schools in Virginia said in a statement.
“Effective Monday, February 28, students are no longer required to wear masks on buses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has come out with new guidance that no longer requires masks to be worn on buses or vans operated by public or private school systems,” the Indian Prairie School District in Illinois added.
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said the updated guidance means “we can continue to keep schools safely open while allowing for educators and parents to get back to focusing on what is most important: our students’ futures,” adding, “Moving forward, districts should continue to work with local health experts, parents, and educators to identify what works best for their communities and consider the appropriate mitigation strategies needed to keep students and staff safe.”
The National Education Association (NEA), a large teachers union that pressured the CDC into recommending masks in schools, cautiously welcomed the change.
“While the NEA is encouraged by the new guidance, local governments must bring educators to the table with our in-school experience when determining how to keep school communities safe—including those with disabilities who are more vulnerable to the exposure and effects of COVID-19,” Becky Pringle, president of the group, said.