DPI 'strongly' recommends indoor masking for K-12 schools regardless of vaccination status

NOW: DPI ’strongly’ recommends indoor masking for K-12 schools regardless of vaccination status

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- The Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction (DPI) is "strongly recommending" school districts follow their updated COVID-19 recommendations for the upcoming school year.

This includes encouraging, but not mandating, faculty and students wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.

In a statement released on Monday, Aug. 9, DPI said they recommend all students older than two years old, and all school staff, wear face masks at school unless medical or developmental conditions prohibit use.

Masks will be required for staff and students on school buses regardless if a school district has a face mask policy in place. The guidance mirrors updated CDC recommendations for K-12 schools in order to reduce COVID-19 transmission in the classroom. 

"The joint guidance we are strongly recommending districts follow provides a roadmap for a safe return to in-person school," State Superintendent Jill Underly said. "These are the recommendations we feel you should do to keep your school open."

The protocols are not required but strongly encouraged as education officials stress there’s still a large percentage of students under the age of 12 who are not yet approved to get the vaccine. 

“With new information that vaccinated individuals are able to spread the virus and give it to people who are not vaccinated, we have to keep in mind a lot of those unvaccinated people are children,” said Christian Phelps, a spokesman with Wisconsin’s Public Education Network. 

This guidance means local school districts have the ability to implement their own COVID-19 protocols based on levels of transmission in their communities. 

DPI officials said while the COVID-19 pandemic remains an evolving situation, they are encouraging school districts in areas with high transmission to enforce mask policies and promote vaccinations of those who are eligible for the shot.

With debates igniting over masking and vaccines, Underly hopes districts will enforce these COVID-19 protocols state health officials say are effective at curbing the spread of the virus. 

“We realize masking is the way to go, we know it's not perfect and there still will be transmission, but we can greatly reduce transmission if we do follow these simple things,” Underly said. 

Other safety protocols such as social distancing, disinfecting and cleaning recommendations are also included in the guidelines.

The CDC recommends people who are not fully vaccinated maintain physical distance of at least six feet from other people who are not in their household. Based on studies from the 2020-2021 school year, CDC recommends schools maintain at least three feet of physical distance between students within classrooms, combined with indoor mask-wearing, to reduce transmission risk.

When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least three feet, DPI said it's "especially important to layer multiple other prevention strategies, such as indoor masking, screening testing, cohorting, improved ventilation, handwashing and covering coughs and sneezes, staying home when sick with symptoms of infectious illness including COVID-19, and regular cleaning to help reduce transmission risk."

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