A chain completes a gate to the playground at Collins Elementary School in Pinole, California on December 30, 2020.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to release comprehensive new guidance on Friday on how to safely reopen schools to face-to-face learning despite the spread of the coronavirus and highly contagious new varieties.
CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky and Donna Harris-Aikens, Senior Policy and Planning Advisor for the Department of Education, are expected to hold a briefing on the new guidelines at 2:00 p.m. ET. The CDC said it will “discuss new science-based resources and tools that will help schools reopen safely and remain open to personal learning”.
The new guide comes after Walensky said last week that schools can safely reopen even if teachers haven’t been vaccinated. The White House quickly distanced itself from the comment. Press secretary Jen Psaki said it was not an “official guide” from the CDC.
President Joe Biden has made reopening the country’s schools for personal teaching a top priority. He promised in December that he would resume face-to-face tuition in most schools in the country for the first 100 days of taking office, but Biden did not define what it means for a school to “reopen”.
In January, he said the target only applies to schools teaching students through eighth grade. Earlier this week, the White House further clarified that schools are considered open as long as they teach in person at least one day a week. Psaki said Wednesday the target is part of the White House’s “bold, ambitious agenda”, adding that it is a floor the government hopes to cross.
“His goal is for the majority of schools, more than 50%, to be open by the 100th day of his presidency,” she said. “And that means some lessons in classrooms. So at least one day a week. Hopefully it’s more.”
In-person education came to an abrupt halt across the country in March as schools switched to distance learning to protect students, teachers and parents from the coronavirus. However, education experts and public health groups, including the World Health Organization, have warned of the permanent consequences of keeping students out of the classroom. Economists have also warned of the impact on working parents, especially mothers, who have lost record numbers of jobs during the pandemic.
Former President Donald Trump urged governors and local officials to reopen schools for personal learning, saying in July that closing schools will likely cause “more deaths”. However, under his administration, the CDC gave little guidance on how and when to safely reopen, saying instead that the decision should be made by local and state officials.
In the USA the problem is controversial. Some say the risk of the coronavirus for children is lower than the consequences of missing school. While children and young adults in general are less likely to get seriously ill and die of Covid-19, the risk is increased if the person has an underlying condition that affects their immune system. According to the CDC, more than 120 people under the age of 20 died of Covid-19 in September in the United States.
Instead of a previously clear federal approach, state, local and school officials have all set their own course on how and when schools should reopen. Data from Burbio, a service tracking school opening plans, recently reported that nearly 65% of K-12 students are already learning some degree in person.
This story will be updated during the day.