Answering questions about COVID-19

Do you have a question about the novel coronavirus? Email it to Assistant Editor Matthew Hensley at

Will the CDC require students to wear masks at school?No.

Despite what a meme circulating on social media would have you believe, the Centers for Disease Control has not issued mandates for when in-person classes resume. The agency has issued interim guidance for schools, among other facilities, to help drive the conversation. It stresses that these are recommendations, adding that “All decisions about following these recommendations should be made in collaboration with local health officials and other State and local authorities who can help assess the current level of mitigation needed based on levels of COVID-19 community transmission and the capacities of the local public health and healthcare systems, among other relevant factors.”

For masks in particular, the guidance is to encourage, but not require, cloth face coverings for students: “Teach and reinforce use of face coverings among all staff. Face coverings may be challenging for students (especially younger students) to wear in all-day settings such as school. Face coverings should be worn by staff and encouraged in students (particularly older students) if feasible and are most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult. Information should be provided to staff and students on proper use, removal, and washing of cloth face coverings. Face coverings are not recommended for babies or children under the age of 2, or for anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the covering without assistance. Cloth face coverings are meant to protect other people in case the wearer is unknowingly infected (many people carry COVID-19 but do not have symptoms). Cloth face coverings are not surgical masks, respirators, or personal protective equipment.”

What are other CDC guidelinesfor reopening schools?It’s difficult to spell out the recommendations in this space as a number of them are conditional, based on mitigation needs in the community and the ability to enact some of the guidance. For instance, if a school is in Step 1 or 2, buses should create social distance when possible, using an example of having one child per seat, every other row. In Step 3, there is no bus-specific distancing recommendation. Those guidelines are laid out across four pages of a larger document, which can be found here:

A few consistent recommendations across steps include:

Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily

Teach children appropriate hygiene, including frequent hand-washing

Minimize interaction among different classes when possible

Limit large gatherings

Minimize sharing of school supplies

When possible, space out seating

When school resumes in the fall, districts will work with the state Department of Education and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to determine what measures will be in place.