CDC emphasizes reopening schools in new guidance that contradicts past recommendations

CDC emphasizes reopening schools in new guidance that contradicts past recommendations
Posted at 8:49 PM, Jul 23, 2020

After issuing previous guidance that encouraged schools to close in areas with high transmission of the coronavirus, the CDC is now emphasizing that schools reopen this fall.

The guidance issued on Thursday is in line with a Trump administration priority to reopen schools this fall.

“It is critically important for our public health to open schools this fall,” said CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield. “The CDC resources released today will help parents, teachers and administrators make practical, safety-focused decisions as this school year begins. I know this has been a difficult time for our Nation’s families. School closures have disrupted normal ways of life for children and parents, and they have had negative health consequences on our youth. CDC is prepared to work with K-12 schools to safely reopen while protecting the most vulnerable.”

Now in areas with, as the CDC calls it, "substantial, uncontrolled transmission" of the coronavirus, "Schools should work closely with local health officials to make decisions on whether to maintain school operations. The health, safety, and wellbeing of students, teachers, staff and their families is the most important consideration in determining whether school closure is a necessary step. Communities can support schools staying open by implementing strategies that decrease a community’s level of transmission. However, if community transmission levels cannot be decreased, school closure is an important consideration."

In areas with substantial, controlled transmission, "Significant mitigation strategies are necessary." In addition, social distancing and face covering policies should be implemented, the CDC said.

Previous guidance called for schools in areas with substantial community transmission (the CDC did not distinguish between uncontrolled or controlled) to, "Implement extended school dismissals (e.g., dismissals for longer than two weeks). This longer-term, and likely broader-reaching, dismissal strategy is intended to slow transmission rates of COVID-19 in the community. During extended school dismissals, also cancel extracurricular group activities, school-based afterschool programs, and large events."

In previous guidance, the CDC called on schools to keep students 6 feet apart. But many classrooms do not have the space to properly socially distance students. The Trump administration’s response appears to be a $105 billion request to Congress. President Donald Trump said that the funds, in part, could be used for schools to open additional spaces and hire additional staff in order to help space students.

The CDC said that the “best available evidence from countries that have opened schools indicates that COVID-19 poses low risks to school-aged children, at least in areas with low community transmission, and suggests that children are unlikely to be major drivers of the spread of the virus.”

But that guidance contradicts a South Korean study published by the CDC earlier this week.

The study said that while children under age 9 were less likely to spread the virus, youth ages 10 through 19 were just as likely as adults of spreading the virus.

The study also found that closing schools in several Chinese cities, including Wuhan, that school closures and social distancing significantly reduced the rate of COVID-19 among contacts of school-aged children.

“The role of household transmission of SARS-CoV-2 amid reopening of schools and loosening of social distancing underscores the need for a time-sensitive epidemiologic study to guide public health policy,” the researchers wrote.

In its new guidance, the CDC said that extended school closures are harmful to children and can lead to severe learning loss, and the need for in-person instruction is particularly important for students with heightened behavioral needs.

The American Federation of Teachers this week pointed toward a three-point plan that the US should implement for reopening schools.

“Our plan details three conditions essential for schools to reopen,” wrote Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “First, the average daily community infection rate among those tested for the coronavirus must be very low. (New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has required the rate not to exceed 5 percent for at least 14 days.) Second, schools must employ public health protocols, including 6-feet social distancing, masks, deep cleaning and handwashing stations. Third, adequate resources must be available to enact these safeguards, including funding for additional nurses, guidance counselors and teachers to reduce class size.”

But the CDC also weighed the concerns of the coronavirus against providing physical activity, food and safety for students. The CDC said studies project that the childhood obesity rate would increase by 2.4% if schools remained closed through December.

This guidance comes as cases in the US steadily increased earlier this month, prompting coronavirus death counts to rise in recent days. The US had back to back days of more than 1,000 people reportedly dying from coronavirus-related illnesses, according to Johns Hopkins University.

To read the CDC’s latest guidance, click here.