CDC releases new guidance for reopening schools

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Friday, July 24, 2020
CDC issues new guidance for opening schools, favors bringing kids back to campus
The CDC guidelines cited evidence that suggests the virus isn't as serious for children and that kids aren't as likely to spread it to adults.

The CDC on Thursday added new information to its website on opening schools, but it did not appear to remove any of its earlier suggestions. Much of the new material emphasized the importance of reopening schools, echoing many of President Donald Trump's arguments.

The updated guidance urged school leaders to work with local officials to make decisions about the fall, taking into account the virus's rate of transmission in the area. It laid out a range of measures depending on the level of spread. If there's minimal or moderate spread, it recommends social distancing, masks and increased sanitation. But in areas with substantive and uncontrolled spread, it says, school closure is an "important consideration." "Plans for virtual learning should be in place in the event of a school closure," the CDC said.

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Some of the nation's largest districts have already rejected the idea of a full reopening. The Los Angeles and San Diego districts plan to keep classes online this fall, while New York City's schools plan to offer a mix of online and in-person instruction.

President Donald Trump is now acknowledging that some schools may need to delay their reopening this fall as the coronavirus continues to surge. It marks a shift from Trump's previous demand for a full reopening of the nation's schools this fall.

In recent weeks, Trump has said that it's safe to open schools and that Democrats have opposed it for political reasons. But speaking at a White House news conference Thursday, Trump said districts in some virus hot spots "may need to delay reopening for a few weeks."


COVID-19 poses relatively low risks to school-aged children

The CDC says children appear to be at lower risk for contracting COVID-19 compared to adults. According to the CDC, as of July 17, 2020, the United States reported that children and adolescents under 18 years old account for under 7 percent of COVID-19 cases and less than 0.1 percent of COVID-19-related deaths.

There have also been few reports of children being the primary source of COVID-19 transmission among family members, the CDC said in a news release on Thursday.

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Extended school closure is harmful to children

According to the CDC, following the wave of school closures in March 2020 due to COVID-19, academic learning slowed for most children and stopped for some. A survey of 477 school districts by the University of Washington's Center on Reinventing Public Education found that, "far too many schools are leaving learning to chance."

The CDC also says disparities in educational outcomes caused by school closures are a particular concern for low-income and minority students and students with disabilities. "Many low-income families do not have the capacity to facilitate distance learning (e.g. limited or no computer access, limited or no internet access), and may have to rely on school-based services that support their child's academic success," the CDC said in a release.

A study by researchers at Brown and Harvard Universities assessed how 800,000 students used Zearn, an online math program, both before and after schools closed in March 2020. Data showed that through late April, student progress in math decreased by about half, with the negative impact more pronounced in low-income zip codes

Schools play a critical role in supporting the whole child, not just their academic achievement

Extended school closures are harmful to children's development of social and emotional skills, the CDC says. Important social interactions that facilitate the development of critical social and emotional skills are greatly curtailed or limited when students are not physically in school.

The health institute also states that extended closures can be harmful to children's mental health and can increase the likelihood that children engage in unhealthy behaviors.

"We know that, even outside the context of school closures, children often do not receive the mental health treatment they need. Among children ages 9-17, it is estimated that 21 percent, or more than 14 million children, experience some type of mental health condition," the CDC said in the newly-released guidance.

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The CDC says it's critical that all administrators:

  • Engage and encourage everyone in the school and the community to practice preventive behaviors. These are the most important actions that will support schools' safe reopening and will help them stay open.
  • Implement multiple SARS-CoV-2 mitigation strategies (e.g., social distancing, cloth face coverings, hand hygiene, and use of cohorting).
  • Communicate, educate, and reinforce appropriate hygiene and social distancing practices in ways that are developmentally appropriate for students, teachers, and staff.
  • Integrate SARS-CoV-2 mitigation strategies into co-curricular and extracurricular activities (e.g., limiting or cancelling participation in activities where social distancing is not feasible).
  • Maintain healthy environments (e.g., cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces).
  • Make decisions that take into account the level of community transmission.
  • Repurpose unused or underutilized school (or community) spaces to increase classroom space and facilitate social distancing, including outside spaces, where feasible;
  • Develop a proactive plan for when a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19.
  • Develop a plan with state and local health department to conduct case tracing in the event of a positive case.
  • Educate parents and caregivers on the importance of monitoring for and responding to the symptoms of COVID-19 at home.
  • Develop ongoing channels of communication with state and local health departments to stay updated on COVID-19 transmission and response in your local area.

A new poll finds very few Americans think schools should return to normal operations this fall.

The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that only about 1 in 10 Americans say daycare centers, preschools and K-12 schools should start the school year like any other.

Most think mask requirements and other safety measures are necessary to restart in-person instruction, and roughly 3 in 10 say that teaching kids in classrooms shouldn't happen at all.