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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated school reopening recommendations Friday, suggesting that schools layer COVID-19 prevention strategies like social distancing, handwashing and ventilation to reopen safely.

The guidance prioritizes fully reopening schools this fall, a goal shared by Hamilton County Schools and other districts in the Chattanooga area.

Hamilton County Schools ended its mask requirement for students and staff on June 1, following May's lengthy school board meeting that drew protesters against required masking for students. Hamilton County Schools campuses remained open for about 90% of last school year, and its hybrid option, HCS at Home, will not continue into next year.

Beyond masks, the guidance provides information about vaccinations. The CDC recommends children aged 12 and older take the vaccine, and the Tennessee Department of Health approved use of the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 12-15 in May.

Since then, private schools and public school districts have encouraged vaccination and held vaccination events on campus in the spring. Hamilton County Schools held its first vaccination event on May 5 in partnership with Thrifty MedPlus Pharmacy, while Baylor School and McCallie School started partnering with Access Pharmacy to vaccinate students in April.

As of Friday, McCallie remains the only area school requiring vaccinations for eligible students. Other private schools, including Baylor, Girls Preparatory School and Silverdale Baptist Academy, told the Times Free Press in May they would not require vaccines for students for the upcoming school year.

Since children under 12 are not eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, the guidance recommends using multiple strategies in a "layered" approach to prevent the spread of the virus, which includes maintaining 3 feet of space in classrooms, mask-wearing for unvaccinated people, and proper ventilation and handwashing.

Contact Anika Chaturvedi at achaturvedi@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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