Fully vaccinated: What recent CDC guidance means for schools

On Monday, March 8, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued updated recommendations for individuals who have been “fully vaccinated against COVID-19.”

The CDC considers people to be fully vaccinated at least 2 weeks after receiving the second dose in a 2-dose vaccine or at least 2 weeks after receiving the single dose vaccine.

What Does the Guidance Say?
The new recommendations state that fully vaccinated people can:
• Visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing a mask or physical distancing.
• Visit with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease indoors without wearing a mask or physical distancing.
• Refrain from quarantine and testing following known exposure if the vaccinated person is asymptomatic.

However, fully vaccinated people should also continue to:
• Take precautions in public like wearing a well-fitted mask and physical distancing.
• Wear masks, practice physical distancing, and adhere to other prevention measures when visiting with unvaccinated people who are at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease or who have an unvaccinated household member who is at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease.
• Wear masks, maintain physical distance, and practice other prevention measures when visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple households.
• Avoid medium- and large-sized in-person gatherings.
• Get tested if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
• Follow guidance issued by individual employers.

The CDC also recommends avoiding medium- to large-sized in-person gatherings whether the people involved are fully vaccinated or not and further recommends fully vaccinated people in public settings should continue to wear a mask, maintain physical distancing, avoid crowds, avoid poorly ventilated spaces, and cover coughs and sneezes.

What Does This Mean for Schools?
Currently, there is no general “mask mandate” for school districts in Missouri or for the state as a whole. Some local health departments and/or municipalities have mask mandates in place, while others do not.

DESE has previously issued guidance stating if a school district implemented a mask mandate, and masks were being worn by individuals who had been exposed to COVID-19 in the school setting, then the individual who came in contact with the COVID-19 positive person could continue to attend school. However, if either person was not following the school’s mask mandate or was not wearing their mask appropriately during the time of exposure, the close contact should not come to school and should continue to quarantine at home for 14 days. And, if the school had not implemented a mask mandate, close contacts in the school setting were advised to not come to school but instead quarantine at home for 14 days. While there is no “mandate” for masks in school districts, there are advantages to having a such one regarding close contact and quarantine restrictions.

We continue to recommend school districts follow the guidance of the local health department regarding masking and other preventative measures, in order to reduce possible legal risk to districts.

Therefore, based on the current guidance and information we recommend:
• Districts continue to monitor the status of any mask mandate or requirement issued by the local health department or municipality and comply with any restrictions or requirements in place, or, in the absence of requirements, determine what will apply within the school setting regarding masking.
• Remember the CDC guidelines still encourage fully vaccinated individuals to wear masks and practice physical distancing in large gatherings and among unvaccinated individuals from different households – which precisely describes a public-school environment.

In general, the new CDC guidance and recommendations should not affect most school districts in delivering instruction in that the easing of the mask restrictions arguably apply to small, family gatherings. If you have specific questions pertaining to your district please contact the attorneys at EdCounsel to discuss the issues in greater detail.