Back to School 2021: Breakdown of CDC guidelines for return to in-person learning

ATLANTA — After a year of virtual and hybrid learning, most school districts in Georgia plan to return to in-person learning.

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the return to in-person learning is a top priority for the fall for students’ benefit.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Channel 2′s complete guide for back to school 2021 in north Georgia]

In July, the agency released its updated set of guidelines for the 2021 fall semester.

Here is a breakdown of what the CDC guidelines suggest for return to in-person learning and how schools can approach their strategies for vaccinated and non-vaccinated students and staff.


The updated CDC guidelines state that students who have been vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus should not be required to wear face masks in school this fall.

The exception is on school buses, which is in line with the CDC’s public transportation guidelines. Drivers should also wear masks on the buses.

Students can be required to wear a face mask if a school district decides they are needed. Several districts including DeKalb County and Clayton County, have made the decision for everyone to wear masks.


Masks are recommended for people who are not fully vaccinated, including students, teachers and staff. Children under the age of 2 should not wear a mask.

The CDC recommends districts provide masks for students who forget them or can’t afford masks.

In general, people do not need to wear masks when outdoors. However if there’s a high transmission in the area, the CDC recommends people who aren’t fully vaccinated wear a mask outdoors in full crowds at events like football games.

The agency says there should still be exceptions for people who can’t wear a mask safely because of a disability.

The American Academy of Pediatrics takes a stricter stance than the CDC when it comes to masks. The group of physicians is recommending that all children 2 and older should wear a mask in school, no matter their vaccination status.

[American Academy of Pediatrics: Students should wear masks in school, no matter vaccination status]

Social distancing

Last year, the CDC recommended at least six feet of social distancing between students, teachers and staff.

The guidelines now call for three feet of distancing in the classroom combined with indoor mask wearing by people who are not fully vaccinated.

The CDC says that separating students into smaller groups is still a good way to help reduce the virus spread. However, the agency discourages separating the students by vaccinated and unvaccinated groups.

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Vaccines, testing and quarantine

Not included in the guidelines is a requirement that teachers and vaccine-eligible students be vaccinated.

The CDC does say that promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports.

Schools will have a mixed group of people who are fully vaccinated and people who are not. Currently, only children 12 and over are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Several clinical trials for kids under the age of 12 are underway.

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Testing remains an important way to prevent outbreaks, according to the guidelines. Students and staff also should stay home when they are sick.

The CDC says people who are fully vaccinated do not need to quarantine or get tested if exposed to someone with COVID-19 if they do not have any symptoms.