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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

With about a month until back to school begins in many K-12 districts, most states in the U.S. have no uniform plan to require masks, even as public health guidance still strongly recommends them for the unvaccinated.

Why it matters: Kids younger than 12 still haven't been eligible for vaccination and, without mitigation efforts like masking, the fall could bring an uptick in the spread of COVID.

  • That's particularly of concern for epidemiologists with the growth in cases from the Delta variant.
  • Several reports of COVID cases stemmed from summer camps, a precursor of what could be in store this fall.

Driving the news: The CDC released new recommendations Friday urging K-12 schools to fully reopen in the fall, even if some mitigation steps previously laid out are not feasible, such as social distancing.

  • With the FDA's expanded eligibility of the Pfizer vaccine to 12-to-15-year-olds, schools may allow those who received the shot to be exempt from masks, the CDC said.

About half of the states don't plan to enforce mask policies in schools, according to a mask policy tracker by Burbio.

  • Within the past two weeks, eight states have rolled back their mask mandates for schools and left local districts to decide, while another eight states have banned districts from enforcing masks altogether.

Ten states, including California, will mandate students wear masks. That will hold true, regardless of vaccination status among 12-to-18-year-olds, the state's health department said Friday.

  • "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," California Health and Human Services agency secretary Mark Ghaly said in a statement.

What to watch: Experts are still unsure how back to school will go in the U.S.

But a recent study in the British Medical Journal suggests the Delta variant is driving outbreaks in primary schools in the U.K. At least 375,000 students were absent due to Delta cases at the end of June, which jumped to 640,000 last week.

Go deeper

Oct 19, 2021 - Health

Puerto Rico leads U.S. COVID vaccination rates

A mass vaccination event at the Puerto Rico Convention Center in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on March 31. Photo: Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images

Puerto Rico has the highest percentage of people fully vaccinated against the coronavirus in the United States as of Oct. 19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why it matters: The island has managed to accomplish such feats amid frequent power outages, earthquakes and high dependence on imports of health technologies from outside the region.

Oct 19, 2021 - Health

Supreme Court declines to block Maine health care workers vaccine mandate

A Maine health care worker prepares vaccine dose. Photo: Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to hear an emergency appeal of a vaccine mandate for Maine health care workers.

The big picture: The mandate, which was announced in August by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, says that Maine health care workers need to be vaccinated by Oct. 29 or risk losing their jobs and not qualifying for unemployment benefits.

GE to mandate COVID vaccinations for U.S. workers

Photo: Sebastien Bozon/AFP via Getty Images

General Electric will require all of its workers in the U.S. to be vaccinated against COVID-19, citing President Biden's executive order for federal contractors, the company confirmed to Axios on Tuesday.

Why it matters: General Electric is the latest in a slew of major companies to mandate the vaccine for workers, following in the footsteps of American Airlines, Tyson Foods and Microsoft, among others.