First Day of School 2021-22

Elementary students walk to class during the first day of the 2021-22 school year on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021.

The Louisiana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics has voiced its support for universal indoor masking for schools, describing it as necessary “for the health of all Louisiana citizens.”

In a letter to Gov. John Bel Edwards, the Louisiana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stated that the 750 member organization “strongly recommends” universal masking while indoors in schools.

Edwards reimposed an indoor mask mandate on Aug. 4 amid the state’s fourth surge of COVID-19 for everyone 5 years and older, including for all K-12 schools, colleges, and universities.

The mandate expires Sept. 1, though it could be extended.

“As advocates for children, we are concerned about the health and well-being of every child,” the letter says. “We know that vaccines, masking and social distancing are the best ways to protect them from COVID-19.

“We urge you to continue to support the health of all Louisiana citizens by requiring universal masking indoors for everyone in the school setting until such time as science and medical experts determine it safe to discontinue current policy.”

In their letter to Edwards, Louisiana AAP said that all policy considerations for school plans during the pandemic “should start with a goal of keeping students and teachers safe and physically present in school.”

The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, Louisiana AAP said, and pointed out “significant evidence” showing the negative effects school closures had on children during the 2020 academic year.

In addition to recommending that all children should be in school for in-class learning, the Louisiana AAP said it recommends that all K-12 students and all school staff wear face masks and maintain social distance when indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

This, Louisiana AAP said, is in line with guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In a statement, Edwards thanked the Louisiana Chapter for its support and reiterated his stance that, “In-person learning is important for our children, and wearing masks indoors is critical to making certain our schools stay safe and open.”

“Pediatricians know first-hand how the Delta variant of COVID-19 is impacting our children unlike any other variant before,” Edwards said. “No child under age 12 is eligible to receive a vaccine, which is why universal masking is one of the best tools to help protect them, teachers and support staff as they all head back to school.

“Our children are among our most vulnerable, and keeping them safe while in school should be a priority for all of us.”

The letter from Louisiana AAP was publicly released two days before the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) is scheduled to consider whether local school districts should determine their own masking policies.

In the letter, the Louisiana AAP lists several reasons for supporting universal masking including:

-- A significant portion of the student population is not currently eligible for vaccination.

-- Masking provides the best protection of unvaccinated students and teachers from COVID-19 and reduces transmission.

-- Many schools lack a system to monitor vaccine status among students, teachers, and staff making policy based on vaccine status impractical.

-- Vaccination rates in Louisiana remain low and are inadequate to provide herd immunity at this time.

-- As the pandemic continues, there is growing concern that variants could emerge that could cause more severe disease. Masks remain an important mitigation strategy to reduce the likelihood of this occurring.

-- The Delta variant is eight times more contagious than the novel COVID-19.

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