CDC calls for schools to reopen with precautions

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday released a long-awaited roadmap on safely reopening schools, emphasizing the importance of having schools open as long as proper coronavirus safety precautions are followed.

The guidance states it is “critical for schools to open as safely and as soon as possible,” given the benefits of in-person learning.

The top recommendations for doing so safely:

  • Universal wearing of masks by students, staff and teachers
  • Distancing so that people are six feet apart

Notably not a top priority: Making sure every teacher is vaccinated, which has been a major sticking point in the fights between teacher’s unions and school districts. CDC reiterated that states should prioritize teachers for vaccination, but said it is not a prerequisite for reopening. Still, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten was largely supportive of the guidance.

Color coding: The CDC breaks transmission levels for communities surrounding schools into four levels. At “low” and “moderate” transmission, all K-12 schools can open for full in-person instruction with distancing “to the greatest extent possible.”

The far more common situation in the U.S. right now, however, is “substantial” or “high” spread.

In “substantial,” schools should be in hybrid instruction, the CDC says. In “high” spread, middle and high schools should be in virtual-only school unless “they can strictly implement all mitigation strategies” and have few cases.

What’s different: The guidelines are not that dissimilar to what came out over the summer from the Trump administration, but the Biden administration is leaning on having more scientific credibility. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Friday that there had been no “political meddling” in her agency’s recommendations, though she added she had shared some pieces with the White House to let them know what the CDC was planning.