CDC expected to release new guidelines for reopening schools

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week is set to release highly anticipated new guidance for getting children physically back to school...

Posted: Feb 11, 2021 12:15 PM
Updated: Feb 14, 2021 4:05 PM

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week is set to release highly anticipated new guidance for getting children physically back to school during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Biden administration is pushing to reopen schools, an issue some view as being tied to the reopening of the economy and a return to normal life in America.

An administration official told CNN the CDC's five key strategies to reopening schools include hand washing, masking, social distancing, cleaning and ventilation, as well as contact tracing, isolation and quarantine.

The guidance will not suggest requiring staffers to be vaccinated, instead describing vaccination as another strategy to "layer," since many schools were able to safely reopen before vaccines were available, the official noted.

The guidelines will also note that screening -- testing people to catch asymptomatic cases or people who are infected but have not yet become ill -- can improve detection of cases.

But some teachers and unions are pushing back against plans to reopen, many with demands for vaccination and more supplies.

The National Education Association (NEA) surveyed 3,305 of its members and said Tuesday that 82% have yet to receive a Covid-19 vaccine. As of Monday, at least 26 states and Washington DC said they would allow some or all teachers and school staff to get a Covid-19 vaccine.

Some have also raised concerns about equity, noting that current access to the funding and supplies needed to meet safe reopening standards is often skewed towards wealthier jurisdictions.

"Most schools, especially those attended by Black, brown, indigenous, and poor White students have severely outdated ventilation systems and no testing or tracing programs to speak of," NEA President Becky Pringle said.

Pringle noted that messaging from the CDC and other leaders carries weight and hopes the new guidance will be backed by funding from federal and local entities

"We need to ensure that we have the additional funds to help our more marginalized students and schools, because we're digging out of a hole here," said Pringle. "Here we are with outdated ventilation systems -- sick buildings -- that we want to send kids back into with the coronavirus still raging."

President Joe Biden's Covid-19 relief proposal would include $170 billion for K-12 schools, colleges and universities that could be directed toward mitigation measures.

What does the science say?

Experts say that with the right precautions, a return to in-person learning can be safe -- even before all teachers and staff are vaccinated.

"School should be the last places closed and the first places open," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing last week. "Our goal is to make sure in getting children back to school that we do so both with the safety of the children and the safety of the teachers."

Walensky previously said that vaccinating teachers "is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools."

Some schools have managed to implement full or part-time in-person learning, without the kind of Covid-19 spread seen in crowded offices or long-term care facilities. Transmission has occurred, but CDC researchers say there is little evidence that it has contributed meaningfully to increased community spread.

In one CDC study, mitigation measures, including social distancing, contact tracing and wearing masks -- provided to students through a grant from a private foundation -- helped 17 rural schools in Wisconsin achieve transmission rates that were 37% lower than those of the community at large. Of 191 Covid-19 cases, just 3.7% were contracted in school.

Those mitigation measures can make a big difference. Another CDC study detailed how two Florida high school wrestling matches -- a high-contact sport that does not allow for masking or social distancing -- became superspreader events that led to the loss of an estimated 1,700 in-person school days.

Previous CDC advice to schools

After Covid-19 began to take hold throughout the US, the CDC offered some considerations for closing schools in March last year, noting that suspending in-person learning for eight weeks or more would likely have more of an impact on mitigating community spread than shorter closures in response to positive cases. Some schools switched to virtual learning for the remainder of the academic year.

Ahead of the new school year in August, the CDC advised communities to weigh the benefits of in-person learning against the risks of reopening schools in the midst of a pandemic. The agency advised jurisdictions to make decisions about in-person learning based on their level of community spread.

For schools allowing in-person learning, the CDC emphasized the importance of maintaining a clean environment, wearing masks and social distancing. Schools were told they should try to keep students and teachers in distinct groups throughout the day and have lunchtime outside, when possible.

Experts have warned that learning during a pandemic can be hard on students. The agency advised schools to maintain mental health services and offer remote counseling.

In the months since, schools have adopted varying approaches that include in-person learning, online learning and a hybrid of the two.

Staying on top of transmission rates -- and perhaps the presence of virus variants -- will help people manage anxiety and make informed plans about reopening schools, said Dr. Stuart Ray, a Johns Hopkins University professor of medicine in infectious diseases. Dashboards and other tools to aid in data collection can help jurisdictions stay informed.

Testing will also be a valuable tool, Ray noted. "It does make a big difference to do some testing and not just symptom-based screening, particularly when children are less likely to be symptomatic than adults," he said.

As for teachers and school staff, Ray said there's no doubt that there is some level of risk involved with a return to in-person learning before everyone has been vaccinated, but tools like personal protective equipment can help make everyone safer.

"We need some guidance about how to factor in effective PPE, so that people who are not vaccinated can still be safe -- as we demonstrated health care workers could be in 2020, before a vaccine was available," he said.

One of the most effective ways people can help make teachers, staff and students safer inside schools is by helping to control the spread of the virus outside of schools, Ray said.

"If people are really careful about masking and distancing outside of schools, then the schools become safer," he said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 501097

Reported Deaths: 9990
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34338538
DeSoto32117403
Hinds31939628
Jackson24494382
Rankin21995390
Lee15543235
Madison14581280
Jones13851242
Forrest13453251
Lauderdale11991317
Lowndes11050188
Lamar10521135
Pearl River9533237
Lafayette8550140
Hancock7732127
Washington7438158
Oktibbeha7146131
Monroe6777177
Warren6694176
Pontotoc6664102
Neshoba6637206
Panola6531131
Marshall6467134
Bolivar6317148
Union602894
Pike5820152
Alcorn5669101
Lincoln5436135
George496879
Scott472898
Tippah469281
Prentiss467281
Leflore4658144
Itawamba4636105
Tate4588111
Adams4587119
Copiah448592
Simpson4446116
Yazoo444187
Wayne439772
Covington428894
Sunflower4239105
Marion4226108
Coahoma4160105
Leake408288
Newton381779
Grenada3707108
Stone360364
Tishomingo359792
Attala331589
Jasper329965
Winston314291
Clay308076
Chickasaw300367
Clarke292494
Calhoun279446
Holmes267987
Smith264050
Yalobusha234047
Tallahatchie228051
Greene219348
Walthall218763
Lawrence212940
Perry205556
Amite205156
Webster202946
Noxubee186740
Montgomery179656
Jefferson Davis171743
Carroll169138
Tunica159839
Benton148838
Kemper141941
Choctaw133426
Claiborne132737
Humphreys129538
Franklin120228
Quitman106428
Wilkinson105139
Jefferson94534
Sharkey64120
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 819597

Reported Deaths: 15406
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1147901924
Mobile725791338
Madison52306697
Shelby37597350
Baldwin37245552
Tuscaloosa35101612
Montgomery34106740
Lee23526246
Calhoun22225488
Morgan20941378
Etowah19825500
Marshall18361304
Houston17384412
St. Clair16054339
Cullman15443293
Limestone15343199
Elmore15241286
Lauderdale14302295
Talladega13836283
DeKalb12649261
Walker11202370
Blount10192176
Autauga10043148
Jackson9871184
Coffee9210191
Dale8897185
Colbert8860201
Tallapoosa7084198
Escambia6772134
Covington6712183
Chilton6641162
Russell636659
Franklin5959105
Chambers5607142
Marion5005127
Dallas4973200
Pike4795106
Clarke475584
Geneva4571127
Winston4516103
Lawrence4321117
Bibb425186
Barbour357776
Marengo338090
Monroe331464
Randolph329764
Butler326396
Pickens316284
Henry312666
Hale311388
Cherokee302860
Fayette292880
Washington251551
Cleburne247760
Crenshaw245275
Clay243368
Macon234663
Lamar224147
Conecuh186153
Coosa180240
Lowndes175164
Wilcox168839
Bullock151644
Perry138840
Sumter133038
Greene126744
Choctaw88527
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Clear cool and dry to begin your weekend, but both afternoons should be a little bit above what we expect for this time of year temperature wise. Rain chances begin to return late Sunday night, with at least two chances for storms over the next week, summer could be strong.
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