(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) Face masks are now required when students are inside Fairfax County Public School buildings, regardless of an individual’s vaccination status, the school district announced this morning (Wednesday).
“Masks are an essential tool in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting those unable to be vaccinated,” the message says. “To ensure a safe start to the school year, masks will be required for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, inside FCPS buildings.”
The announcement comes a week after Virginia’s health and education departments released new guidance giving local school systems discretion to determine their own mask rules, though the state recommended that elementary schools at least adopt universal masking with children younger than 12 still not eligible to get vaccinated.
A statewide mandate requiring all children 5 and older to wear masks while in school expired on Sunday (July 25).
According to a graphic on the FCPS website, fully vaccinated staff will not be required to wear masks when no students are present in a school building, and masks will not be required for either vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals outdoors.
Masks will be required on school buses in keeping with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s federal mask mandate for public transportation.
FCPS says its COVID-19 health guidelines for the upcoming school year, which will begin on Aug. 23, are consistent with federal, state, and county guidance. The rules also apply to the expanded summer school programs that are continuing into mid-August.
“Universal masking is the most effective way to keep our staff and students safe and feeling confident — and also to keep our school buildings open for five days a week of in-person instruction for all students this fall,” an FCPS spokesperson said in a statement. “The universal mask policy is in line with local, state and national guidance and takes into account the fact that many of our students are not eligible for the vaccine or who have not yet been vaccinated for other reasons.”
In addition to sharing its plans for face masks, FCPS announced that it will not regularly test staff and students for COVID-19, instead asking anyone who enters a school building to “self-assess and stay home if they are feeling ill or experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19.”
Unlike last year, students will not be required to go into quarantine if they are exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID-19. The CDC updated its contact tracing guidelines earlier this month with an exemption for kindergarten through 12th grade students in a classroom setting.
After several weeks of loosening restrictions, a surge in COVID-19 cases nationwide has prompted a return of health protocols that many had hoped the availability of vaccines would relegate to the past.
The CDC officially amended its mask guidelines yesterday (Tuesday) to state that even fully vaccinated individuals should wear masks indoors in areas with high or substantial transmission, citing evidence that the delta variant can be spread by vaccinated people.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has directed County Executive Bryan Hill to evaluate the possibility of adopting a vaccine mandate for county government employees when they fully return to workplaces this fall.
FCPS did not comment when asked whether a similar approach is being considered for school staff, but it said in this morning’s announcement that “the most important thing we can all do to keep our schools safe and open all year is to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as we are eligible.”
FCPS has partnered with the Fairfax County Health Department to bring vaccination clinics to schools, including three scheduled for August:
- Wednesday, Aug. 4: 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., Herndon Elementary School, 630 Dranesville Rd., Herndon
- Thursday, Aug. 5: 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., Justice High School, 3301 Peace Valley ln., Falls Church
- Friday, Aug. 6: 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., Liberty Middle School, 6801 Union Mill Rd., Clifton
According to the county health department, more than 63% of all Fairfax Health District residents have received at least one vaccine dose, including 72.8% of residents aged 12 to 17.
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