Mask use to be encouraged, not required, in Hamilton County Schools this year

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Assistant Principal Jennifer Rodgers, right, helps students exit a bus on the first day of school at Hixson Elementary School on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, in Hixson.

Hamilton County Schools will "strongly encourage" but not require students and staff to wear face masks when in-person learning resumes next month, despite rising COVID-19 cases, low vaccination rates and recommendations from leading medical organizations.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released new guidance for schools Monday, which recommends all students over 2 years old and staff wear masks, even if they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - which is the agency both Hamilton County Health Department and local school officials say they turned to for help developing their classroom COVID-19 prevention policies - also updated its school recommendations in July.

The agency does not go as far as the pediatricians group in recommending universal face masks in school, but the CDC guidelines call for all unvaccinated students ages 2 and up and all unvaccinated staff to wear masks indoors.