The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has issued official guidance, yesterday, imploring schools to reopen fully in the fall, even if they are unable to take all of the steps recommended by the agency to mitigate the impacts of the coronavirus — a significant shift in a public health crisis in which childhood education has surfaced as a political viscosity.
The bureau also urged school districts to use local health data to determine when to stiffen or relax preventive measures such as mask use and physical separation.
Despite the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant and the fact that children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for vaccination, officials said they are confident this is the correct approach.
The recommendations are a sharp departure from the CDC’s previous recommendations for schools, acknowledging bluntly that many students have endured during long months of virtual learning and that a uniform approach is ineffective when virus workloads and vaccination rates vary so widely from town to town and province to province.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the issue of school closures has been a contentious and divisive one, and advising school districts has been a difficult task for the CDC.
Online education has been difficult not only for students but also for their parents, many of whom have had to stay at home to care for their children, and relaunching schools is an essential step toward economic recovery.
“This is a watershed moment,” said Dr Richard Besser, former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “It’s also an awareness that there are real costs to having kept children at home, to keeping them out of school, that school is so important in terms of children’s social interaction and advancement, and it offers other assistance as well” — as well as to working parents.
The official guidelines maintain the recommendation that students be staggered at least 3 feet apart, but with a new stipulation: if trying to maintain such distance precludes schools from fully reopening, they may consist of a combination of other strategies such as indoor masking, testing, and enhanced ventilation. Masks are recommended for all unvaccinated students, teachers, and staff members, according to the guidelines.
Also, it actively encourages schools to endorse vaccination, which it describes as “one of the most critical strategies for assisting schools in safely resuming full operations.” Vaccines appear to be effective against the Delta variant, according to research.
Prior suggestions issued in March and reaffirmed in May, stated that masks should be required in all schools for students in kindergarten through 12th grade until the end of the academic year.
The agency also stated that most students in classrooms could be spaced 3 feet apart — rather than 6 feet, as it had recommended earlier in the pandemic —as long as everyone wore a mask.
“We understand that in-person learning really is essential for school, for children, for their educational, social, and emotional quality of life, and so we want to get kids back in the classroom,” said Erin Sauber-Schatz, a captain in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps who helped lead the CDC response team that wrote the instruction.
The proposals urge local officials to carefully monitor the pandemic in their communities, and they advise that if districts want to remove prevention strategies in schools based on local conditions, they should do so one at a time, surveilling for any boosts in COVID-19 cases.
According to Sauber-Schatz, the guidance, which the CDC began drafting in May after the Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccines for children aged 12 and older, was “really written to be versatile.”
Experts had mixed feelings about it.
According to Jennifer Nuzzo, a public health researcher at Johns Hopkins University, leaving decisions on school safety protocols to local officials may sound great in theory, but it could be “paralyzing” by putting preventive measures subject to negotiation and discussion.
Emily Oster, a Brown University economist and parenting book author who waded into the contentious debate over school reopenings last year, using data to argue that children should return to school in person, said she was generally pleased with the CDC’s framework, which she said provided districts with a road map to reopen without being proscriptive.
Though she had nudged for even more lax supervision, such as eliminating the 3-foot rule, she said the current proposals provided districts with significant versatility.
“In some ways, this is the most positive I’ve been about their advice,” Oster said.
Though there have been far fewer cases overall than during the winter peak, such as in children, they have become a larger proportion of cases as the pandemic has progressed and, more recently, as more adults have been immunized.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children have accounted for 14 per cent of all cases to date, up from around 7 per cent this time last year, though serious illness and death among them remain uncommon.
According to the association’s research, approximately 2% of all coronavirus cases in children result in hospitalization, and even fewer — 0.03 per cent of cases or less — result in death. Young children are also less likely than teenagers and adults to spread the virus to others.
Scientists are still worried about a bizarre divisive syndrome that can appear in children several weeks after contracting the coronavirus, even if they did not have COVID-19 symptoms at the onset of diagnosis. After being infected, some children may experience lingering, long-term symptoms, an affliction known as long COVID.