President Joe Biden’s director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said Friday at a press briefing that the science shows COVID-19 spreads more when schools are closed than when they are open.
A remarkable admission that puts teachers’ unions across the country opposing the reopening of schools in an awkward position, as Biden faces pressure to fulfill his goal to have the majority of schools open within his first 100 days.
Walensky was asked by CNN to add clarity to what is considered to be the safe reopening of schools.
“What we are finding from the science-based literature is that there is more spread that is happening in the community when schools are not open than when schools are open,” the director replied. “So we certainly want to make sure that there is limited to no transmission of disease in our schools, and of course we are managing all sorts of risks.”
“If schools are closed, there is lots of other risks,” she said. “That is, risks to food insecurity and many of the other things mentioned: the lack of education, educational milestones being missed. So, many other things that we have to think about in the risk. So, what we are trying to do is make sure that there is limited to no transmission in the schools and we believe with the strategies that we have put forward that there will be limited to no transmission in the schools if they are followed.”
A 35-page CDC report on reopening schools was released Friday and the strategies include maintaining 6 ft. social distancing inside schools where possible, but does not require vaccinating teachers for in-person instruction, USA Today reported.
Face masks, handwashing and respiratory etiquette, and contract tracing are among other “universal” mitigation efforts being recommended, according to the newspaper.
But the report says “vaccination should not be considered a condition for reopening schools for in-person instruction,” though it does say officials should consider giving teachers “high priority” in vaccine distribution.
“The science has demonstrated that schools can reopen safely prior to all teachers being vaccinated,” Walensky said.
In an appearance Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” the director said virtual teaching was an option in designated high-risk areas.
“We have in the guidance clear language that specifies that teachers that are at higher risk – teachers and students that are higher risk, and their families – should have options for virtual activities, virtual learning, virtual teaching,” Walensky said.
The problem being most schools in America would be considered to be in high-risk zones.
Walensky addressed the issue in a tweet that offered little clarity.
CDC advocates for more kids in school as #COVID19 community spread declines. Even in areas with high community spread, if schools follow the strict mitigation measures included in CDC’s operational strategy, at least K-5 students can get back to school in hybrid mode. https://t.co/3vjcq1CaqN
— Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH (@CDCDirector) February 14, 2021
House Republican Whip Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., called on Biden to take action.
“Today’s CDC guidance essentially reiterates the same guidance issued eight months ago,” Scalise said in a statement Friday. “It’s time for President Biden to stand up to the unions and reopen schools.”
“The science could not be more straightforward: schools must safely reopen their doors to students now,” he continued. “Dr. Fauci has stated that ‘it’s less likely for a child to get infected in the school setting than if they were just in the community’ and CDC Director Walensky has stated that teachers can return to classrooms without being vaccinated.”
Scalise noted that “child abuse and neglect, mental health issues and suicide, and failing grades are all up” in communities where schools are closed.
“President Biden pledged to reopen schools in 100 days and follow the science, but instead he has broken this promise and followed the radical unions’ lead,” he added. “The President calls school closures a ‘national emergency’ but he is enabling it.”
Biden has proposed $130 billion for school reopenings in his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, USA Today noted.
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