- Newly released CDC guidelines recommend students return to in-person instruction, provided schools follow appropriate safety protocols.
- Experts say that while there was uncertainty about how children in a classroom environment could impact community spread of disease, new data finds the actual risk to be low.
- National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) director Dr. Anthony Fauci has publicly backed the new guidelines and recommends we get our kids back in school.
The disruption to children’s lives from schools closing is one of the greatest challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to daily life.
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Health officials from the CDC
The report’s authors emphasized that infection prevention protocols must remain in place.
“All recommended mitigation measures in schools must continue,” they wrote.
This includes requiring universal face mask use, increasing physical distance by de-densifying classrooms and common areas, and using hybrid attendance models when needed to limit the total number of contacts and prevent crowding.
They also warned that keeping schools safe would depend on community factors that reduce risk, including measures like restricting indoor dining when COVID-19 case rates are high.
“Yes,” said Dr. Eric Cioe-Peña, director of global health at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, New York, agreeing that teachers’ concerns are valid, but cautioning that while these protocols are “clearly” preventing transmission in schools, “not all schools are set up to adhere to these protocols and guidelines.”
He added that the majority of concerns he’s heard from teachers revolve around a lack of trust that school systems are actually following guidelines, making their actual risk difficult to gauge.
“It seems like with the current strain, not counting new variants, children under age 9 are less likely to contract COVID-19,” he said.
According to Cioe-Peña, staff infection rates have been the same as baseline community rates, and there is “little risk of students giving infections to staff, or to other children.”
Cioe-Peña said vaccinating teachers is a good “first step.”
“We need to get schools open, and vaccinating teachers will help allay fears about being in in-person schooling,” he said.
He refused to comment regarding students receiving the shot, as those under age 16 aren’t currently eligible for vaccination, but asserted that “they do not appear to be the primary engine for the epidemic in the U.S.”
A recent article in EducationWeek highlights the tug of war between parents and teachers unions — revealing that a significant number of educators aren’t comfortable with classroom instruction, even if they’re vaccinated.
According to EducationWeek, while many states work to vaccinate teachers in an attempt to ease labor tensions, some unions — including in Fairfax, Virginia, and in California — have said vaccinations aren’t assurance enough that it’s safe to return to work.
One expert cited in the article is sounding the alarm, and warning on social media that these decisions will have consequences.
Dr. Vinay Prasad, associate professor in the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California San Francisco, tweeted that these unions “will be held responsible for their irrational demands and stonewalling, and I am not sure they will survive the public reckoning.”
“In actual public health risk, consequences of continuing distance learning for their education, for their family, the economy, and so on… it’s understandable that there’d be anxiety and concern,” said Dr. K.C. Rondello, an epidemiologist and clinical associate professor at Adelphi University College of Nursing and Public Health.
“But I think that at the end of the day, districts need to make the right decisions based on information that’s evidence-based and informed by the risk versus the actual benefit,” he continued.
Rondello said the decision to reopen schools is “very particular to each community,” and a decision that’s right for one community based on its population and current rate of infection is not going to be the right decision for a community with different characteristics.
Rondello explained that last fall, there was great concern in the public health world about students returning to school, and how that might contribute to community spread — but it’s different now.
“There’s a lot we know that we didn’t know when COVID-19 started,” said Rondello.
But it’s critical that schools follow safety protocols.
“Fortunately, the vast majority of those fears have been unfounded, and the schools that did meet in person — provided that they followed mitigation strategies — we really didn’t see the huge spike in new cases,” he confirmed.
When asked about the CDC’s recommendation to reopen schools, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) director Dr. Anthony Fauci said he agreed with the data.
“I would back the CDC recommendations because that is really based on data,” Fauci said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. He explained that it’s less likely for a student to acquire the infection in a school setting than in the community, and for that reason, “we need to try to and get the kids back to school.”
Published Tuesday, it analyzed data from 17 schools in Wood County, Wisconsin, with 4,876 students receiving in-school instruction.
Researchers found that due to widespread compliance with mask mandates, there were only 7 cases linked to in-school spread of 191 cases identified among students and staff members. This is a little less than 4 percent of detected cases.
Newly released CDC guidelines recommend students return to in-person instruction, provided schools follow appropriate safety protocols.
Experts say that while there was uncertainty about how children in a classroom environment could impact community spread of disease, new data finds the actual risk to be low.
NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci has publicly backed the new guidelines and recommends we get our kids back in school.