The Center for Disease Control (CDC) released recommendations for school reopening this coming fall that are expected to influence how school and local officials determine their reopening strategies.
What We Know:
- The main recommendation the CDC outlines are vaccinated students do not need to wear masks in school unless traveling on the bus. None of the guidelines are mandatory, but the CDC hopes that parents might be encouraged to vaccinate their children with this in mind. Kids older than 12-years-old qualify for the Pfizer vaccine. With the three-week period between doses along with the additional two weeks it takes for full efficacy, a child should receive their first shot now to reach immunity by mid-August. Captain Erin Suber-Schatz, a member of the CDC COVID response team that drafted the guidelines, said, “The message is really, if your child is eligible for vaccine, the time to get vaccinated is now.”
- The guidelines still call for unvaccinated students and staff to continue wearing masks. They also encourage schools to offer routine testing voluntarily. Masks are strongly encouraged to be worn on the bus by both passengers and drivers. 3 feet of physical distance has also been encouraged amongst unvaccinated children, but the CDC says this factor should not discourage classrooms from reopening.
- Previously the CDC hasn’t taken a stance on reopening schools. Child development experts have long called for policymakers to prioritize reopening schools for children as remote learning can be ineffective, especially for younger children. In their statement, the CDC said, “Students benefit from in-person learning and safely returning to in-person instruction in the fall 2021 is a priority.”
- According to the Center for American Progress, by the end of last school year, 53% of schools had fully reopened, 46% did a combination of remote and in-person learning, while the remaining 1% was fully online. The CDC advises districts to slowly lift COVID protocols if the outside community has low case numbers and high vaccination rates. One of the earliest districts to return to school July 21, the Chandler Unified School District of Arizona, has made masks voluntary as a result of their Republican Governor Doug Ducey signed a law that prohibits local counties and school districts from requiring face coverings.
- A big question becomes whether or not districts might require vaccination, which would not be unlike other immunizations required by most institutions except for special cases. The Biden administration said it would not be making vaccination federally mandated but has done so for mask-wearing on public transportation in hopes of curbing the spread of potential variants. Businesses have taken the honor system approach, which may change if federal regulators approve the vaccines which are currently being distributed under emergency authorization.
- COVID-19 has been proven to be less susceptible in children, and 80% of teachers, staff, and childcare workers have received one dose of the vaccine by April. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, finds the CDC’s guidelines encouraging to educators. “It builds us the evidence we have about COVID transmission and reminds us we must remain committed to other mitigation strategies so every school building is safe and welcoming for all, including those who are still too young to be vaccinated and those who cannot be,” she said.
While the CDC is not able to require their recommendations to be followed, they designed them to be adaptable to the visions of lawmakers and administrators. Sauber-Schatz said the mission was “really about protecting people who are either not yet eligible for vaccine due to their age, or people who are not yet fully vaccinated.”