CDC’s New Guidelines Delve on Reopening Schools Under High Community Transmission Levels

Last month, the CDC released a set of new guidelines for school districts to consider in order to safely operate schools amidst the still ongoing pandemic. Compared to the guidelines released under the previous Trump administration, the fresh set of recommendations gives focus on what should be considered as high risk conditions, since many schools have reopened regardless of the high transmissions occurring in their respective community.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), made it clear that these are only recommendations, which denote that schools are not obligated to comply.

Important Details in the New Guidelines About Reopening Schools

The guidelines mentioned that elementary schools are safe to hold in-person classes at any level of community virus-transmission, but with proper observance of mitigation measures like social distancing, sanitation, hygiene, and wearing of masks.

Middle and high schools that have reopened are deemed operating under highest level of transmission if:

There are 100 or more than a hundred coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in the community in a span of seven days or;
10 percent or more of those who have taken the corona virus test, have tested positive within a span of seven days.

In such cases, the CDC recommends conducting weekly testing for school staff members and students alike, if despite the high risk, a school still continues in-person learning. Although the guidelines do not discourage schools from operating even if the community transmission level is high, the center’s recommendation is to reduce the number of students in attendance.

While teacher vaccination is highly recommended, the new set of guidelines does not advocate mandatory vaccination.

Public Health Experts and Doctors’ Opinion on the Guidelines

The latest guidelines from the agency were well-received by a lot of health experts who have since argued that educational institutions should be the last place to close and the first to reopen during the pandemic. Yet some of them pointed out that the guidelines did not give particular attention to air quality, since experts now believe that the virus is likely to be airborne and is transmissible through air.

Other experts thought the conditions for middle and high schools were restrictive, considering that not a few schools have safely operated even with high levels of community transmission.

Teachers’ Unions Thoughts on the CDC Guidelines

Although the two national teachers’ unions welcomed the elaborate set of guidelines released by CDC, as they were apparently based on science, they still have some reservations.

The President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Randi Weingarten, highlighted the importance of testing in schools. The president of the National Education Association (NEA) Becky Pringle, is also concerned about not emphasizing the importance of air quality. Pringle is also concerned that the new guidelines mentioned the six feet social distancing measure as ideal, but not necessary.