CDC Releases 'Long-Needed Roadmap' For Safe School Reopenings

Published: Friday, February 12, 2021 - 3:24pm
Updated: Friday, February 12, 2021 - 6:43pm

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shared new guidance on how schools can safely reopen their classrooms and protect students, teachers and other school staff. 

The new guidance is an in-depth review of available science and evidence on COVID-19 among youth, and what is known about the virus’ transmission in schools, said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. In it are five key recommendations:

  • Universal and correct mask usage
  • Physical distancing (of at least 6 feet)
  • Hand washing and respiratory
  • Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities
  • Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine, in collaboration with the health department

The mask usage and physical distance are incredibly important of the five, especially in areas with high community spread, which Walensky said includes the vast majority of communities in the U.S.

"We know that most clusters in the school setting have occurred when there are breaches in mask wearing," she said. 

But Walensky said the release of this guidance does not mean the CDC is mandating that schools reopen. Nor is the CDC demanding schools that are not following the recommendations close.

“These recommendations simply provide schools a long-needed roadmap for how to do so safely under different levels of disease in the community, Walensky said. 

In addition to the strategies, the CDC recommends various learning modes based on different levels of COVID community transmission, and whether the schools can implement expanded screening COVID-19 testing to identify infected individuals without symptoms (or prior to development of symptoms) who may be contagious so that measures can be taken to prevent further transmission. 

“We have advocated for elementary schools to be in a hybrid learning mode with reduced attendance because we really do believe you need full 6-feet of physical distancing at that level of transmission," Walensky said. 

For middle and high schools, where it’s harder to keep small cohorts, Walensky said the CDC recommends virtual instruction for schools that aren't using expanded screening testing and are located in areas of high COVID transmission unless all mitigation strategies can be strictly implemented.

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