Montecito Union School students walk to class on campus on April 15, 2021.
Montecito Union School students walk to class on campus on April 15, 2021. The CDC released updated guidelines Friday for in-person learning at K-12 schools and the state will release its own guidance on Monday.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

With the start of the school year drawing closer in Santa Barbara County and across the nation, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday released new guidance for COVID-19 protocols at K-12 schools. 

People who are not fully vaccinated are advised to wear masks indoors during in-person learning at elementary and secondary schools, the CDC said. 

“Consistent and correct mask use by people who are not fully vaccinated is especially important indoors and in crowded settings, when physical distancing cannot be maintained,” the CDC website says.

Additionally, the CDC is recommending students maintain at least 3 feet of distance between each other in classrooms to reduce transmission risk. 

“When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet, such as when schools cannot fully re-open while maintaining these distances, it is especially important to layer multiple other prevention strategies, such as indoor masking,” the CDC said.

Children under the age of 2 should not wear masks, according to the CDC, and state and local mask mandates.   

California Department of Public Health officials said Friday that the state will align with the CDC guidance of masking and testing, “while not recommending physical distancing due to the obstacles it would present to California schools’ full reopening.”

The state plans to release its own K-12 school guidance on Monday, and the CDPH indicated that it will include masking for all students, regardless of vaccination status. 

“California will continue to require that masks be worn indoors in school settings, which also will ensure that all kids are treated the same,” CDPH said in a statement Friday.

California Health & Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said in a statement, “Masking is a simple and effective intervention that does not interfere with offering full in-person instruction. At the outset of the new year, students should be able to walk into school without worrying about whether they will feel different or singled out for being vaccinated or unvaccinated – treating all kids the same will support a calm and supportive school environment.”

On Thursday, the day before the CDC recommendations were released, Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg told KEYT the county was aware of the guidelines and would align with them. 

“What it will say is that in areas with low virus spread like Santa Barbara County at the moment, just wearing masks indoors is sufficient. No kid has to wear a mask outdoors,” he said. 

Individuals do not need to wear masks when outdoors, according to the CDC: “However, particularly in areas of substantial to high transmission, CDC recommends that people who are not fully vaccinated wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings or during activities that involve sustained close contact with other people who are not fully vaccinated.” 

Under new guidance, school administrators may opt to make mask use universally required in the school, regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status. 

The CDC said reasoning for this includes:

» Having a student population that is not yet eligible for vaccination, such as schools serving students in prekindergarten through sixth grade.
» “Increasing or substantial or high” COVID-19 transmission in the community or the school.
» Lacking a “system to monitor” the COVID-19 vaccination status among teachers, staff and/or students.

The updated guidance suggests implementing “layered prevention strategies” to protect people who are not fully vaccinated while in the school setting, according to the CDC. 

The CDC said promoting vaccinations, novel coronavirus screening testing, ventilation, hand hygiene, contact tracing in combination with quarantine and isolation, and cleaning and disinfection are also “important layers of prevention” to keep students and others safe in schools.

Click here to read the complete guidance for COVID-19 prevention in kindergarten through 12th-grade schools.

Click here for the new guidance released for child care and early childhood education programs. 

Individual school districts will likely make their own decisions on prevention measures for in-person learning in the fall. 

“Localities should monitor community transmission, vaccination coverage, screening testing, and occurrence of outbreaks to guide decisions on the level of layered prevention strategies (e.g., physical distancing, screening testing),” the CDC said. 

COVID-19 Vaccination For Children 

Santa Barbara County providers started vaccinating children 12 and older in May, and they are allowed to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

As of Wednesday, more than 8,300 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered to children ages 12 to 15 in the county, according to the Public Health Department’s community data dashboard.

Out of the total cases (34,716) countywide, about 3,480 children between ages 0 and 17 have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Thursday.

Numbers from the county Public Health Department show the region is home to about 104,000 children.

In his Thursday interview, Ansorg noted that there is still time for children over the age of 12 to be fully vaccinated before the start of the school year. 

“That would be the safest thing to do,” he said. 

Many local K-12 districts start classes in mid-August, which is about five weeks away.

The two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech regimen, which is the only one approved for use in people under the age of 18, takes five weeks from shot one to being done.

Individuals should get their second Pfizer shot three weeks (21 days) after their first shot. 

People are considered fully vaccinated when at least two weeks have passed after they receive the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, according to the CDC.

Individuals who received a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will need two shots to get the most protection, according to public health officials. People who have only received one shot of two-dose vaccine regiments are not considered fully vaccinated. 

To find free COVID-19 vaccination locations near you, visit, or Santa Barbara County’s, or text your zip code to GETVAX (438829). 

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Brooke Holland, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @NoozhawkNews

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.