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On Tuesday, several CDC officials called for schools to reopen for in-person instruction and said that it can be done safely as long as certain precautions are taken.
In an editorial published in JAMA, the CDC team said a “preponderance of available evidence” from the fall semester indicates that in-person schooling is safe as long as everyone wears a mask and follows social distancing guidelines. They also recommended limiting risky activities, such as indoor sports and indoor group interactions.
“It’s not going to be safe to have a pizza party with a group of students, but outdoor cross-country, where distance can be maintained, might be fine to continue,” Margaret Honein of the CDC told The New York Times. She is one of the authors of the editorial and a member of the CDC’s COVID-19 Response Team.
Local officials should also consider closing indoor dining, bars and poorly ventilated gyms to make sure COVID-19 transmission is low across the community, Honein and her colleagues wrote.
The CDC researchers said they’ve found little evidence that schools have the kinds of outbreaks seen in nursing homes and crowded environments, such as meatpacking plants. At schools that have reopened with in-person instruction, they wrote, most COVID-19 cases came from social gatherings, not in-person school attendance.
They pointed to a study published Tuesday in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which showed that schools in rural Wisconsin with high mask usage had lower COVID-19 rates than in the surrounding community.
“There is accumulating data now that with high face mask compliance, and distancing and cohorting of students to minimize the total number of contacts, we can minimize the amount of transmission in schools,” Honein told The New York Times.
Hybrid models are probably the best option right now, the authors wrote, to limit the number of people in one room at a time and prevent crowding. Some staff and students will continue to need online options, especially if they face high risks for severe COVID-19.
“Decisions made today can help ensure safe operation of schools and provide critical services to children and adolescents in the U.S. Some of these decisions may be difficult,” they wrote. “Committing today to policies that prevent transmission in communities and in schools will help ensure the future social and academic welfare of all students and their education.”
JAMA, “Data and Policy to Guide Opening Schools Safely to Limit the Spread of SARS-CoV-2 Infection.”
New York Times, “C.D.C. officials say most available evidence indicates schools can be safe if precautions are taken on campus and in the community.”
CDC, “COVID-19 Cases and Transmission in 17 K–12 Schools — Wood County, Wisconsin, August 31–November 29, 2020.”