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COVID-19 Back-to-School Guidance for In-Person Learning

July 15, 2021 by Alexa Hornbeck
In this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo, students wait to enter Wyandotte County High School in Kansas City, Kan., on the first day of in-person learning. The district was one of the last in the state to return to the classroom after going virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its guidance for COVID-19 prevention in K-12 schools, as back-to-school season approaches this fall and students return to in-person learning. 

The guidance encourages all schools to offer vaccinations to end the COVID-19 pandemic, but this does not apply to children under the age of 12 who are not eligible for vaccination at this time. 

The CDC anticipates the return-to-school will bring mixed populations of those who will be fully vaccinated and those who are not. They recommend that schools consider layered prevention strategies, such as screening, ventilation, hand washing, contact tracing, cleaning and disinfection, promoting vaccination, and consistent mask use, all of which should be based on the school population, students served, and their communities. 

For example, schools may consider multiple screening testing strategies like testing a random sample of at least 10% of students who are not fully vaccinated, or conducting pooled testing of cohorts. 

Multiple studies have shown that transmission rates within school settings, especially when multiple prevention strategies are in place, are typically lower than or similar to community transmission levels. 

The CDC recommends implementing a screening testing program specifically in schools where there is substantial or high transmission of the virus in the community, with a low teacher, staff or student vaccination rate.

The screening program might replace the need for physical distancing, but in schools where they do not have a screening program, individuals should still wear masks and maintain physical distancing. 

School administrators are also encouraged to promote health equity by providing adaptations or alternatives to working with children and youth for groups disproportionately affected by COVID-19. This includes those living in rural areas, people with disabilities, immigrants, and people who identify as American Indian/Alaska Native, Black or African American, and Hispanic or Latino.

If any prevention strategies are removed from schools, the CDC recommends doing this slowly and one at a time to monitor for increases in COVID-19 cases.

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