The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released revised guidelines Thursday in favor of reopening schools as parents and teachers become increasingly anxious about sending the nation’s 55 million school children into brick-and-mortar institutions during a resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a conference call with reporters on Friday, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield emphasized the public health and societal risks of keeping children away from face-to-face learning.
“It is in the best public health interest for K-12 to get back to school,” Redfield said, pointing to the negative effects of keeping schools closed, including the lack of resources open to children like free lunch and counseling services.
“It’s not a matter if it should be done,” he said, “but how it should be done.”
In response to a reporter’s question, Redfield admitted the new guidelines were vetted by the Department of Homeland Security and officials at the White House.
The new CDC guidelines align with common knowledge measures to reduce transmission of the coronavirus, such as wearing face masks, frequent hand washing and social distancing.
The guidelines do not sharply depart from earlier drafts released to the public over the last few months, except for removing a recommendation for widespread screening for children and staff.
“We’re not necessarily mandating it, everybody does not have a universal approach,” Redfield said, adding that the agency would help individual school districts as needed.
The guidelines also say local officials should consider not reopening schools if they are located in a virus hotspot.
The change to the guidelines correlates with statements from President Donald Trump, who criticized the earlier guidelines and called for schools to reopen on time or risk losing federal funding.
According to the CDC, the total cases of coronavirus in the United States surpassed 4 million on Friday. Nearly 145,000 Americans have succumbed to the virus.
Recent polls show the vast majority of parents and teachers want to push back school openings.
An ABC News/Ipsos poll released Friday found 55% of Americans oppose reopening schools, which is some states would normally happen next month. Responses clung starkly to partisan lines, with 78% of Democrats against reopening and 79% of Republicans pushing to open the brick-and-mortar institutions.
Other recent surveys revealed similar results. In a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Thursday, nine in 10 parents of color expressed worry over sending their child to school and infecting other family members.
“It’s a no-win choice for parents, but most are erring on the side of protecting kids, teachers and families by delaying school reopening and keeping kids home,” KFF President Drew Altman said in a statement.
Redfield addressed those concerns on Friday.
“I understand trepidation and I understood worry,” the CDC director said but reiterated that reopening schools is beneficial for more than just face-to-face instruction.
“I don’t think as many parents realize … that there have really been substantial public health negative consequences for children not being in school,” he said, pointing to increased teen suicide rates and drug abuse.
— By Alex Pickett, CNS