But the very long-awaited guidelines released Friday were actually more measured than some expected, with full personal schooling only recommended when the level of transmission of society is quite low, a standard that almost no place in the United States meets today.
Under the established heading, the CDC recommends either fully distant plans or hybrid plans, where students spend some time in school and some at home, for areas of great societal dispersal. Although the number of cases is declining, the definition of significant proliferation today covers the vast majority of the country.
When communities are in the “red” zone, the CDC proposes that school districts offer hybrid classes to elementary school to reduce the number of students in each room. Middle and high schools could also offer this form of hybrid learning, but only if they also implemented other strict rules.
If all schools followed the CDC guidelines, many who are completely open now would close for personal learning or need to ratchet back to a hybrid system.
Spokesmen for the reopening of schools were appalled.
The guidelines add “new and unnecessary requirements that will ultimately keep millions of children out of school,” public health experts Joseph G. Allen and Helen Jenkins said in Washington Post. They said they had once preferred to tie school opening to measurements for dispersal in the community. “We changed our position on this in the light of overwhelming scientific evidence that transmission in schools can be kept low regardless of the spread in society, as long as there are good mitigation measures.”
Some parents were also disappointed.
“Parents were gradually nervous that this would be a politically influenced outcome, and that’s how it feels like we landed on,” said Karen Vaites, a mother who lives in New York City and is part of a group. advocating for open schools.
She said mitigation strategies such as mandatory masks, which the CDC said were important, make sense, but she sees the requirement of 6 feet between students when rates are high to be too strict, arguing that the CDC’s reopening measurements are too conservative.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky defended the agency’s approach on Sunday.
“We know that the amount of illness in society is completely reflected in what happens in school. If there is more illness in the community, there will be more in school, ”she told CNN. “So I would say that it is everyone’s responsibility to do their part in society to bring disease rates down so we can get our schools opened.”
Greta Massetti, lead author of the CDC guide, noted in an interview that even at high levels of transmission in society, there are personal – albeit hybrid – opportunities for all K-12 schools. To use a hybrid model, it is required that middle schools and colleges either implement all mitigation strategies and keep the number of cases down, or it is necessary to conduct screening tests in school for students and staff without symptoms.
Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Walensky described the guide as a roadmap for reopening schools, some of which have been closed completely for nearly a year.
“We really expect that with this guidance, schools will be able to start opening up,” she said.
Some elements of the guide will definitely help speed up the reopening. It says that vaccination of teachers is a strategy for reopening, but not a requirement. Nor does it place any emphasis on improving ventilation systems, an expensive proposal that has led to controversial negotiations between some school systems and their teachers.
But overall, the CDC plan was welcomed by teachers’ unions as well as some public health experts who were far better than the guidelines put forward during the Trump administration.
“The CDC faced fears of the pandemic with facts and evidence,” said a statement Friday from Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “For the first time since the start of this pandemic, we have a thorough science-based driving license that our members can use to fight for a safe reopening.”
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