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As more states and communities drop mask mandates in schools, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the agency still recommends students wear masks in the classroom, KTLA sister station WJW reports.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during an interview Tuesday that while she’s “cautiously optimistic … that things are going in the right direction,” the agency will continue to evaluate science when making recommendations.

“And right now, we still have about 290,000 (COVID) cases every single day, and hospitalization rates are higher than they even were at the peak of the delta surge,” she told WYPR’s Tom Hall. “Our recommendations are consistent with encouraging students to wear well-fitting masks.”

The governors of Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Oregon this week announced plans to lift mandates in schools by the end of February or March.

The states are among a dozen that have kept mask mandates in schools as others have dropped them, according to the nonpartisan National Academy for State Health Policy.

The CDC also still recommends masks for teachers and staff inside buildings, leaving district leaders to weigh the federal guidance against what they have seen in their own schools and heard from the parents and teachers.

Walensky acknowledged that mask policy decisions are supposed to happen at the state and local levels and depend on local statistics and research. But she said rates are still “extraordinarily high across the nation.”

As far as a change to the CDC’s guidance, she said, a good barometer will be “how our hospitals are doing” and if they have room for and are capable of caring for non-COVID patients.

“Right now across the country,” she said, “our hospitals are still in crunch mode.”

The issue of masks in schools has been so contentious in much of the country that school board meetings have devolved into shouting matches and arrests, superintendents have seen protesters outside their homes, and slates of candidates — pro- and anti-mask — have sought school board seats in an attempt to shape policies.

**For more on COVID in Ohio, watch below.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.