ATLANTA - Atlanta students heading back to class will be required to wear masks in school buildings.
In an announcement Thursday, Atlanta Public Schools say that they will implement a Universal Mask Wearing protocol that covers all schools and buildings in the school system.
Officials pointed to students under the age of 12 not being able to be vaccinated as well as the rise of the Delta variant, which spread more than 200% faster than the original, as two reasons behind the decision.
According to officials, around 18% of eligible students are fully vaccinated and 58% of district employees are vaccinated or plan to be at the start of the school year in August.
"Consistent and correct use of mask-wearing has been shown to reduce the spread of COVID-19," APS said in the statement.
Under the guidelines, masks will be required for all students and staff members in all schools and buildings during the school and workday as well as in after-school activities and clubs. Masks will also be required on school buses, in locker rooms, and band and chorus practices, classes, and events.
Masks will be optional in outdoor activities like recess, the cafeteria, outdoor athletics, and outdoor practices.
In addition, APS will offer COVID-19 vaccines to students and staff during July 31's Back to School Bash and through on-site vaccinations at middle schools and high schools. Parents will need to sign consent forms before their children are vaccinated.
Atlanta public schools join DeKalb and Clayton counties, who also are keeping mask mandates in place. Fulton, Cobb, and Gwinnett County schools have already said they will not require students to wear masks this year.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has only said that unvaccinated people should wear masks, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended all students and staff wear masks regardless of vaccination status.
Download the FOX 5 Atlanta app for breaking news and weather alerts.