Washington D.C., Jul 14, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).
The Archdiocese of St. Louis announced Monday that face masks will be optional at its Catholic schools this fall.
The announcement comes after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its COVID-19 mitigation recommendations for schools this month, amid a surge in virus cases in Missouri.
In a statement on Monday, the Archdiocese of St. Louis said that the wearing of masks in its Catholic schools would be “optional and at the discretion of each individual family,” beginning in the upcoming academic year. The archdiocese qualified that it could update its standards if new information emerged.
“The archdiocese urges all school families, students, leadership, faculties and staffs to be thoughtful of their own health—and that of their community—in all of their decisions, especially regarding the wearing of masks and monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms,” the statement said.
The archdiocese added that it “strongly encourages” all those eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine to receive one, “in order to protect themselves and those around them from the virus.” The archdiocese said the decision was made after “a successful year of in-person learning.”
Earlier this month, the CDC amended its recommendations for in-person instruction in schools to indicate that masks are not necessary for fully vaccinated students and staff, but should be worn by those who are not fully vaccinated. Children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the United States.
The St. Louis County Department of Public Health issued a public health advisory on July 1 after an increase in COVID-19 cases, and on July 12 said Missouri became “a hotspot for COVID-19” in the previous two weeks. The St. Louis Post Dispatch reported that the city’s public schools will require masks for all students and teachers this fall, regardless of vaccination status.
“DPH is increasingly concerned about the risks to the residents of St. Louis County as the Delta variant becomes more widespread,” the county advisory stated. It noted that children are now “transmitting COVID-19 to each other much more easily now than they were last year.”
The archdiocese noted that each school will follow its own protocols, which could include temporary closures or mask requirements “depending on local health guidelines related to situations that arise in individual schools or communities.”
“The overall health and well-being of all in the Archdiocese of St. Louis continues to be of highest priority to Archbishop Rozanski and the archdiocese,” the statement said. “We will continue to closely monitor developments regarding COVID-19 guidance from the CDC as well as local health and government officials.”