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JUST IN: APS Announces Universal Mask Mandate for Return to School

Arlington Public Schools will require universal masking at the start of the school year, regardless of vaccination status, according to an email to families this morning.

The order applies to all students, staff and visitors inside APS buildings and on school buses, Superintendent Francisco Durán said in the announcement. Masks will not be required when eating or during outside recess, P.E. class, athletics and other outdoor activities.

The new school year begins Monday, Aug. 30.

“Universal masks are part of a layered approach to help our schools stay open and safe, and to ensure all students can safely return to our buildings, especially when physical distancing is not possible at all times and not all our students are eligible yet for vaccinations,” Durán wrote.

APS’s new mandate mirrors the rules for in-person summer school. It comes amid a rise in COVID-19 cases in Arlington County, fueled by the more contagious Delta variant. The announcement comes on the heels of similar universal mask mandates announced this week by Fairfax County and Montgomery County public schools.

This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its mask guidance to recommend that even vaccinated people wear masks in indoor, public settings where prevalence of the virus is elevated.

“Universal masking for the start of the school year aligns with the latest CDC guidance, and the recommendations of local and state public health authorities, to help ensure all students can safely return to school buildings,” Durán said.

Citing CDC guidance, Durán said a student who is within three to six feet of an infected student will not be considered a close contact as long as both students are wearing masks and the school takes other precautions.

“We will continue to regularly review our masking practices and other health and safety measures to keep them in line with national, state and local health recommendations,” Durán said. “As guidance changes, we will keep the community informed of any changes to our practices.”

Durán encouraged families to vaccinate children ages 12 and older.

“The most effective tool for protecting our school community and preventing the spread of COVID-19 is vaccination,” he said. “We look forward to welcoming students back to school for in-person learning, five days per week.”

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