Local doctor examines conflicting COVID-19 mask guidelines

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Two respected health organizations issued conflicting COVID-19 guidelines.

This comes just weeks away from the beginning of the school year.

The CDC suggests children and employees wear masks if they are not vaccinated, while the American Academy of Pediatrics said everyone should wear masks regardless of vaccination status.

Dr. Steve Threlkeld said the CDC has more flexible guidelines for vaccinated students and employees, while the AAP is stricter.

Overall, he believes both guidelines could change if Delta variant cases continue to rise.

“We will see very quickly what is going on in school systems for the first few months,” Dr. Threlkeld said.

Dr. Threlkeld is one of the area’s leading infectious disease experts. He understands the reasoning behind the COVID-19 guidelines released by the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics as students prepare to return to school.

RELATED: American Academy of Pediatrics: Students should wear masks in school, no matter vaccination status

He said the CDC encourages students and staff to mask up if they are not vaccinated.

“They come down more on flexibility,” he said. “They don’t say you shouldn’t do these things, but you don’t have to. But maybe your local transmission rates and other situations may prompt you to do more or less based on those circumstances.”

Meanwhile, the AAP recommends everyone wear masks regardless of vaccination status.

Dr. Threlkeld believes it’s because school districts will have a hard time keeping track of vaccinated children.

“Make it a blanketed recommendation instead of trying to keep track of who is vaccinated and who is not both in terms of the students and the teachers,” said Dr. Threlkeld.

RELATED: CDC: Vaccinated teachers, students don’t need masks in classrooms

While some CDC and AAP guidelines are different, both organizations want unvaccinated children 2 years and older to wear masks, especially since the vaccine is only available to people 12 years and up.

When Shelby County Schools starts the school year on August 9, it will require everyone to mask up.

Parents have mixed reactions.

“For kids to get the vaccine, they can’t get it. So why send them to schools? Because I had nieces and nephews sent home because the whole kids in the class caught it,” said Shelby County Schools parent Sharae Robertson.

“In my opinion, everyone should wear a mask no matter what, until we finally get beyond this point - because I think we are going backwards,” said Toni Fultz.

Dr. Threlkeld said both of these guidelines could change if school districts see a spike in cases.

RELATED: Shelby County health officials express concern as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations increase

“We will be able to look at different school systems, see what they did, and figure out how much transmission they are having and trying to put those two together,” said Dr. Threlkeld.

Dr. Threlkeld said if some districts aren’t requiring masking, they should still social distance and practice other safety measures.

He suggests an emphasis on testing as well, especially since the Delta variant is more contagious and is the dominant strain.