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CDC Loosens School COVID Guidance

A surgical mask against a grey background.
(Image credit: Photo by Pam Menegakis on Unsplash)

The CDC has eased its guidance for COVID mitigation in schools and elsewhere. 

The updated guidance eases quarantine recommendations for students, teachers, and others exposed to people with the virus, and places less emphasis on six-foot distancing and test-to-stay policies. 

Previously, the CDC recommended that people who are not up-to-date on their vaccinations stay home for a minimum of five days if they come in close contact with someone with COVID. The revised guidance updates this, so these individuals won’t have to stay home. Now they are advised to wear a mask and test for COVID at least five days after their exposure. Those who have COVID, and not just an exposure to someone with the virus, are still advised to isolate themselves. 

Mask recommendations in schools remain in place in some instances, but many districts have already loosened COVID restrictions beyond what the CDC currently recommends. About 60 percent of the U.S. population live in a county in which COVID levels are high enough that the CDC warns of risk of strain on the health care system and recommends universal indoor masking, according to CNN. However, data from school policy tracking website Burbio shows that as of August 8, just 1.2 percent of the nation’s largest 500 school districts currently require masking. 

A Focus on More Sustainable Policies  

The shift in CDC guidance reflects a shift to mitigation efforts seen as more sustainable long term. The updated guidance re-empathizes the importance of building ventilation as a COVID mitigation strategy. This comes as welcome news to many public health experts who have long touted improved school ventilation as an important COVID mitigation method with many additional benefits to students and teachers. 

“We have done studies, as others have, showing that higher ventilation rates and better filtration lead to improved cognitive function performance. This is not debatable at this point,” Dr. Joseph G. Allen, director of the Healthy Buildings Program at Harvard, told (opens in new tab) Tech & Learning last fall. “The positive impact of better air quality is seen across all ages, across all domains -- reading, absenteeism, literacy -- and across countries.” 

The impact of these studies is often intuitive. “Most adults have been in a stuffy conference room and you feel it -- you can't concentrate, you can't think, you feel tired, you sweat, you're looking at the clock,” Allen says. “The door opens and life is literally and figuratively breathed back into the room.”

Personal Mitigation Efforts  

While most teachers and students have resumed pre-COVID activities, some have different risk factors for COVID or living situations that warrant more caution. Here are previous Tech & Learning stories that describe strategies for personal COVID risk mitigation: 

Erik Ofgang is Tech & Learning's senior staff writer. A journalist, author (opens in new tab) and educator, his work has appeared in the Washington Post, The Atlantic, and Associated Press. He currently teaches at Western Connecticut State University’s MFA program. While a staff writer at Connecticut Magazine he won a Society of Professional Journalism Award for his education reporting. He is interested in how humans learn and how technology can make that more effective.