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COVID-19: New CDC Director Gives Guidance On Schools Reopening

The CDC has provided new guidance on getting students back into the classroom.
The CDC has provided new guidance on getting students back into the classroom. Photo Credit: Pixabay/Wokandapix

With President Joe Biden seeking to open all elementary and middle schools for in-person learning within his first 100 days in office, the CDC has provided new guidance on getting students back into the classroom.

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The CDC is now saying that it is possible to return to the classroom without fully vaccinating all educators beforehand.

“There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated in order to reopen safely," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said on Wednesday, Feb. 3. "Vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for the safe reopening of schools.”

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has voted to put “frontline essential workers,” which includes teachers, police, and fire departments, joining healthcare workers and residents at long-term care facilities as those who are eligible and being prioritized.

It could, however, be weeks, if not months, as states and local municipalities wait on additional allocations of COVID-19 vaccine doses from the federal government.

Walensky previously said that schools should be the first to open and last to closes during the pandemic.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki walked back Walensky’s statements, noting that the guidance wasn’t official as the CDC continues to determine what will be required to fully and safely reopen schools.

Biden previously said he plans to work with state and local governments to safely open schools in his first 100 days by prioritizing widespread testing and teachers’ vaccinations while providing additional guidance on improving ventilation and supplying PPE.

Biden has proposed more than $170 billion for both K-12 schools and higher education institutions as part of his plan to respond to the pandemic.

In some states, teachers have already begun receiving their first dose of COVID-19 vaccinations, though some districts are waiting to return to full in-person learning until each educator is vaccinated while others are using a hybrid model.

There has been little proof that schools have been prone to spreading COVID-19, with some even finding less spread than within the communities the schools are in.

During his confirmation hearing, Biden’s nomination to run his Education Department, Connecticut’s Miguel Cardona, was pressed about whether he thought both students and teachers should be vaccinated before returning to the classroom.

“We have great examples throughout our country of schools that are able to reopen safely and do so while following mitigation strategies,” Cardona responded. “While I recognize that that is the case, I do believe that making sure surveillance testing is something that we focus on.”

Cardona said that if he is confirmed, his focus would be on prioritizing teacher vaccinations and creating a vast testing system so schools that open can stay open.

“The funding that is being considered now moving forward is really to make sure we recover,” he said. “If we really want to recover, we really need to invest now or we're going to pay later. And I feel that the funds that are being discussed now are really to help us with a long term recovery process, preventing layoffs, when we need more teachers, not less.” 

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