- The Washington Times - Friday, February 12, 2021

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Sunday the Biden administration’s new guidance for school reopening recognizes the urgent need to end the “collateral damage” of school closures.

The CDC’s new road map for reopening K-12 schools includes familiar strategies such as mask-wearing and physical distancing while prodding school systems to resume classroom instruction “as soon as possible.”

“We are absolutely worried about all of the collateral damage that we are going to see … but not just mental health. Loss of educational milestones, food insecurity that has happened with our schools being closed, which is why we were really prescriptive with this guidance to provide states and localities the information that they need so that they can open safely.” Dr. Walensky said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “It’s really a road map to really try and get those schools back open.”

The CDC guidance, which was announced Friday, focuses on five coronavirus mitigation strategies: “universal” mask-wearing, physical distancing, hand-washing, sanitary facilities and contact tracing.

Testing, ventilation of school buildings, and teacher and staff vaccinations are cited as providing “additional layers of COVID-19 prevention” but not essential to reopening. The guidance managed to draw plaudits from Democrats, who hailed the emphasis on the scientific literature, and Republicans, who cheered the call to return students to their classrooms.



“I have a message for every public school student in America: you matter, and you deserve to be in school,” tweeted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. “Today’s guidance from the CDC affirms what many have known for months: ‘It is critical for schools to open as safely and as soon as possible.”

The agency recommends that schools follow a four-zone, color-coded transmission diagram linking school reopening policies to community transmission rates, as many states and counties have done.

When transmission rates are high (red) or substantial (orange), the CDC suggests schools should remain in primary virtual or hybrid mode, while K-12 schools should be open for full-time in-person learning when rates are moderate (yellow) or low (blue).

Even with communities in the red zone, the guidance says elementary schools may remain partially open with strict physical distancing of at least six feet, given that younger students are less likely to transmit the disease.

When rolling out the new recommendations, Dr. Walensky said that “less than 10% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have been among children and adolescents between the ages of 5-17,” and that “in-person learning in schools has not been associated with substantial community transmission.”

“It is possible for communities to reduce the incidents of COVID-19 while keeping schools open for in-person instruction,” she said. “Most school outbreaks are the result of breaches in mask-wearing and lax mitigation.”

She stuck to her insistence that K-12 schools may resume in-person education safely without teachers being vaccinated despite running afoul of the White House last week as teachers’ unions push for vaccines in their pandemic reopening road maps.

Dr. Walensky called teacher vaccinations “one of those layers of mitigation that we believe will help, but we believe, and the science has demonstrated, that the schools can be reopened safely prior to all teachers being vaccinated.”

That was enough to get her shushed last week by White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who said that Dr. Walensky had spoken in her “personal capacity” when she made the same comment Feb. 3 at the White House.

The American Federation of Teachers emphasized in its reopening blueprint that vaccinations for teachers and staff should be considered a part of negotiations for “returning to in-person learning sooner” and a “mandatory subject of bargaining.”

Even so, AFT President Randi Weingarten praised the CDC’s guidance, saying it “met fear of the pandemic with facts and evidence.”

“We note the CDC has identified the importance of layered mitigation, including compulsory masking, 6 feet of physical distancing, handwashing, cleaning and ventilation, diagnostic testing and contact tracing,” said Ms. Weingarten. “It reinforces vaccine priority for teachers and school staff. Crucially, it emphasizes accommodations for educators with preexisting conditions and those taking care of others at risk.”

The guidance included many of the same recommendations as last year’s CDC guidelines on school reopenings, but Rep. James Clyburn, chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, said it represented “a sharp break from the Trump administration.”

He said the previous administration “tried to bully schools to reopen by threatening to withhold federal funds but failed to provide data-driven guidance and adequate resources to ensure schools could reopen safely.”

S.A. Miller contributed to this report.

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