American schools can safely reopen without teachers being vaccinated as long as masks are worn and students are kept as far away from each other as possible, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The US Public Health Authority on Friday unveiled its new guidelines for how schools can safely reopen with in-person classes, even as the coronavirus remains elevated in much of the country.
Schools in many parts of the US have remained closed in whole or in part since the start of the pandemic, as high levels of infection have discouraged school districts and teachers’ unions from allowing face-to-face education.
US President Joe Biden has promised that most state schools will be open within its first 100 days – though the White House clarified this week that a school would be considered open even if it only teaches one day a week in person. would give.
Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said on Friday that US states should prioritize teacher vaccination. But she added that safe reopening was possible even without vaccinations if schools took adequate mitigation measures.
Walensky said, “Science also shows us that K-12 [primary and secondary] schools that have implemented strict mitigation strategies have been able to safely open up to personal instruction and remain open. And today’s operational strategy provides the roadmap for doing this safely. “
The question of whether schools should open has become one of the most politically charged aspects of the response to a pandemic in the US. Teachers’ unions have argued that teaching in person would expose them to unnecessary risks, while public health scientists have pointed to growing evidence that schools do not contribute significantly to the spread of the disease.
According to the most recent figures from Burbio, a school events app that has collected data on reopenings, only 40 percent of American children attend schools that teach in person every day. Slightly more than 35 percent attend schools that still operate completely online.
Earlier this week, Walensky said vaccination personnel were not a prerequisite for safe reopening. The White House insisted that at the time she spoke in a “personal capacity,” she sparked speculation about cracks within the Biden administration as to how the issue should be addressed.
Official guidelines on Friday suggest those divisions may now be healed.
The announcement was also welcomed by one of the country’s largest education unions, as a sign of the government’s support.
Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement, “Today the CDC met the fear of the pandemic with facts and evidence. For the first time since the start of this pandemic, we have a rigorous roadmap, based on science, that our members can use to fight for a safe reopening. “
According to the guidelines, schools can open safely in low case count districts as long as everyone wears a face mask. But when levels are as high as they currently are in 90 percent of the U.S. counties, kids should be kept six feet apart if possible and school sports reduced.
The CDC also recommends washing hands regularly, having good ventilation, and quickly detecting contact if cases occur in schools. However, all of these remain recommendations and final decisions on the reopening of schools will be made by national or local educational authorities, in addition to individual schools themselves.