The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is encouraging schools and school districts to reopen safely and has just released new guidance for doing just that.
On Friday, Feb. 12, the CDC unveiled the new science-based plan.
“It is critical for schools to open as safely and as soon as possible, and remain open, to achieve the benefits of in-person learning and key support services,” health officials said. “To enable schools to open safely and remain open, it is important to adopt and consistently implement actions to slow the spread of COVID in schools and in the community.”
The new guidance calls for schools to reopen in differing capacities, depending on the COVID-19 transmission rates in specific communities, while stating that even elementary students in areas with high rate of transmission should receive at least some in-person learning.
“The CDC’s operational strategy is grounded in science and the best available evidence,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said on Friday.
Officials said that contact tracing, isolation, and quarantining would be key while introducing “five key mitigation strategies” for returning to in-person education safely:
- The universal and correct wearing of masks;
- Physical distancing;
- Washing hands;
- Cleaning facilities;
- Improving ventilation.
Walensky specifically cited physical distancing and wearing masks as the most important strategies to reopening schools. The recommendations also are emphasizing keeping students in cohorts to limit their contact with others and make physical distancing easier.
The CDC also said that vaccinations and testing “provide additional layers of COVID-19 prevention in schools,” but they weren’t listed among the organization’s key strategies.
“I want to be clear, with this operational strategy, CDC is not mandating that schools reopen,” Walensky noted. “These recommendations simply provide schools a long-needed roadmap for how to do so safely under different levels of disease in the community.”
Elementary schools have been advised to remain open, regardless of the transmission rates, with the CDC noting that it has been proven that they are less likely to get or spread the virus. The guidance says that middle and high schools should switch to all-virtual learning models only when the community transmission of the virus reaches the highest level.
In-person instruction was also prioritized over sports and extracurricular events. The CDC says that in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak in a community, activities should be canceled before switching to remote learning.
The CDC also said that in an effort to improve ventilation and air circulation, schools should open windows and doors, but should not do so “if it poses a safety risk or a health risk.”
According to health officials, all symptomatic students, teachers, staff and close contacts for diagnostic testing, and that schools put in place routine weekly testing of students and staff, except when community transmission is low.
Walensky added that while some schools have fully reopened for in-person learning, they have done so while not following the CDC’s mitigation strategies.
“For these schools, we are not mandating that they close,” she said. “Rather, we are providing these recommendations and highlighting the science behind them to help schools create an environment that is safe for schools, students, teachers, and staff.”
Reopening schools was one of President Joe Biden’s goals to accomplish in his first 100 days in office. According to reports, the majority of districts in the country are providing limited in-person learning, though approximately half of the nation’s students are learning remotely.
Complete guidance on reopening schools from the CDC can be found here.
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