NIH Director Backs Masking in Schools, Says It's Not 'Asking People to Go to the Trenches'

Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, responded Monday to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendation that all students wear masks upon returning to school this fall.

"I have great respect for the AAP, and I don't think they make these recommendations lightly," Collins told MSNBC's Meet the Press. "They will not be popular amongst parents and kids who are sick of masks, but you know what, the virus doesn't care that we're sick of masks. The virus is having another version of its wonderful party for itself."

Collins continued, "And to the degree that we can squash that by doing something that maybe is a little uncomfortable, a little inconvenient—it's not like we're asking people to go to the trenches with shooting war, you know? We're just asking you, if it looks like it will help, put the mask back on for a while."

The AAP updated its guidance Monday to strongly recommend the return to in-person instruction, but emphasized the importance of any child over the age of 2 and all staff members wearing a mask regardless of vaccination status.

The pediatrics group's recommendation is more strict than the guidance put out by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC has advised that fully vaccinated students and staff don't need to wear face coverings at school.

Children 12 and over are eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations in the U.S.

"We need to prioritize getting children back into schools alongside their friends and their teachers—and we all play a role in making sure it happens safely," Dr. Sonja O'Leary, the chair of the AAP Council on School Health, said in a statement. "The pandemic has taken a heartbreaking toll on children, and it's not just their education that has suffered but their mental, emotional and physical health."

O'Leary said "combining layers of protection that include vaccinations, masking and clean hands hygiene will make in-person learning safe and possible for everyone."

NIH Director Backs Masking In Schools
Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, said he had "great respect" for the AAP after it issued a guidance calling for all students over the age of 2 to wear masks in school. In this photo, students sit behind barriers and use tablets during an in-person English class at St. Anthony Catholic High School during the COVID-19 pandemic on March 24 in Long Beach, California. Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Coronavirus cases have been on the rise across the U.S. in recent weeks, likely due to the growing prevalence of the Delta variant. The nation's seven-day case average was 26,306 as of July 16, a 69 percent increase from the previous week's average, according to the CDC's data tracker.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also said on Monday the AAP guidance was reasonable.

"I think that the American Academy of Pediatrics, you know, they're a thoughtful group. They analyze the situation and if they feel that that's the way to go, I think that's a reasonable thing to do," Fauci told CNN.

Newsweek reached out to the NIH for additional comment, but didn't receive a response before publication.