CDC Releases Guidelines for Reopening Schools

February 12, 2021 by TWN Staff
Students at Plantation Park Elementary School in Plantation, Florida. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS)

ATLANTA – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday released its long-awaited guidance on safely reopening schools, emphasizing that it is”critical for schools to open as safely and as soon as possible.”

The top recommendations are what one would expect – the universal wearing of masks by students, staff and teachers and maintaining a distance of six feet apart.

“To enable schools to open safely and remain open, it is important to adopt and consistently implement actions to slow the spread of [COVID-19] both in schools and in the community.,” the executive summary of the CDC guidelines says. “This means that all community members, students, families, teachers, and school staff should take actions to protect themselves and others where they live, work, learn, and play.”

The authors of the guidance emphasize that their recommendations are based “on the best-available evidence at the time of release.”

“As science and data on COVID-19 continue to evolve, guidance and recommendations will be updated to reflect new evidence,” they wrote.

According to the CDC, evidence suggests that many K-12 schools that have strictly implemented mitigation strategies have been able to safely open for in-person instruction and remain open.

The essential elements of the strategy include:

  • Consistent implementation of layered mitigation strategies to reduce transmission of [COVID-19] in schools;
  • Phased mitigation and learning modes based on levels of community transmission;
  • Testing to identify individuals with [COVID-19] infection to limit transmission and outbreaks;
  • Vaccination for teachers and school staff, and in communities, as soon as supply allows.

Regardless of the level of community transmission, the guidelines say all schools should adopt five key mitigation strategies to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak. These include:

  • Universal and correct use of masks;
  • Physical distancing;
  • Handwashing and respiratory etiquette;
  • Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities;
  • Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine, in collaboration with the health department.

The CDC notes that despite careful planning and consistent implementation of mitigation, some situations may occur that lead school officials to consider temporarily closing schools or parts of a school to in-person instruction.

“These decisions should be made based on careful considerations of a
variety of factors and with the emphasis on ensuring the health and wellness of students, their families, and teachers and staff. Such situations may include classrooms or schools experiencing an active outbreak and schools in areas experiencing rapid or persistent rises in case incidence or severe burden
on health care capacity,” the guidance says.

It also notes that the absence of in-person educational options may disadvantage children from low-resourced communities, which may include large representation of racial and ethnic minority groups, English
learners, and students with disabilities.

“Plans for safe delivery of in-person instruction in K-12 schools must consider efforts to promote fair access to healthy educational environments for students and staff,” the guidance says. “Thus, essential elements of school reopening plans should take into account the communities and groups that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 infections and severe outcomes.”

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