CDC Relaxes Guidelines For Elementary Schools

In light of three new studies, the CDC has released an update to the guidelines for elementary schools.  These studies, released Friday, support the pre-existing evidence suggesting that schools can operate safely, provided masks and other safety measures are used. 

Young children are much less likely to experience severe cases of COVID-19.  This means that, according to the CDC, three feet of distance between students is sufficient for elementary schools.  The recommendations are more complex for middle and high schools, however.  For older children and adolescents, it is important to consider the surrounding area’s level of community transmission.  At the three lowest levels, three feet of distance is considered sufficient.  In areas with the highest tier of transmission, maintaining six feet of distance is necessary.  This means that some middle and high schools would have to either stay remote or rotate students using a hybrid system.

The CDC has reported that school-based infections have primarily stemmed from interactions between adults.  The three-foot guideline therefore does not apply to staff, and the CDC recommends the standard six feet of distance between students and teachers.  Additionally, everyone in the building should continue to wear face coverings.

Provided these safety guidelines are followed, the CDC endorses the safety of reopening K-12 schools.  They suggest that all schools should implement prevention strategies like correct mask usage, regular COVID-19 testing, and physical distancing.

They’ve outlined five key prevention strategies for in-person instruction. These guidelines are also available on the CDC website:

  1. Universal and correct use of masks
  2. Physical distancing
  3. Handwashing and respiratory etiquette
  4. Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities
  5. Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine

Now, it’s been known that President Biden has called on schools to fully reopen.  Prior to the update of guidelines, the CDC had encouraged schools to remain at least partially closed.  Biden’s advice stood in contrast to the CDC’s, as he was enthusiastic about a full reopening regardless of the studies.  This relaxation of the six-foot physical distancing recommendation puts the CDC more in line with White House opinions.

Two large teachers’ unions have expressed concern about this.  They have argued that the research surrounding the impact of closer contact in urban schools, which typically have more crowded classrooms and older ventilation systems, is inadequate.  Concerns have been raised about the risks that this strategy could pose to students and teachers of color, who are disproportionately affected by the virus.

While the CDC has posted a statement on the long-standing systemic health and social inequities that “have put many racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19,” they are still endorsing Biden’s suggestion to accelerate the opening of schools.  

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