After learning from home for more than a year, Noah will start kindergarten this fall. When he does, his mom, Escarlett Garzon, hopes he and the other children in his class will be wearing masks.
“I prefer for him to still wear the mask just because we don't know, like, who may be in contact with the virus and not everyone is getting vaccinated, so I feel more comfortable with him wearing it, rather than not,” Garzon said as Noah played in a Harlem park.
Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidelines saying vaccinated children and adults could go without masks in schools. That would only apply to students 12 and over, as the vaccine has not yet been approved for younger children.
But this week, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that everyone in a school building wear a mask, whether they’ve been vaccinated or not.
The city has not yet set an official policy for this fall. But so far, the mayor is sticking by the current rule of requiring masks.
“I'm someone who believes it's absolutely right for our kids in schools to keep masks on right now,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday.
Some parents have called for the city to stop requiring masks in classrooms.
But more than half of the city’s public school families chose to keep their children home last year — many due to fears of the virus. This fall, they won’t have a remote option. For Garzon, a continued mask mandate will make sending her child back a little less fraught.
“I'm still a little nervous about the whole coronavirus situation. But, I mean there's not any other option. He has to go to school. So that's one of the reasons why I prefer for him to wear the mask,” she said.
And the importance of getting children like Noah back to school is one of the reasons the American Academy of Pediatrics made its recommendation. Dr. Warren M. Seigel is the state chair of the academy, and chair of pediatrics and director of adolescent medicine at Coney Island Hospital.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics policy really isn't just about face masks. It's really about creating the environment so that our kids can get back to school. What we're really interested in and we're advocating for is that children go back to school, to in-person learning,” Dr. Seigel said.
Masks, along with vaccinations for staff and children who are old enough, are a key way of making sure that can happen safely, Dr. Seigel said. With the CDC guidelines noting that localities can choose to require masks, Dr. Seigel said the two entities are not really in conflict.
“What the American Academy of Pediatrics is saying is that masks are critical to protecting children who are not yet vaccinated,” he argued.