Schools need more resources to reopen safely amid pandemic, CDC says

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new details on Friday to guide schools on how to reopen amid the pandemic but director Dr Rochelle Walensky has said “more resources” are needed in order to do so safely.

“One of the things that’s really been emphasised in the school reopening is how unsafe some of our school ventilations are,” Dr Walensky said on Fox News Sunday.

The need to improve ventilation was not just because of the coronavirus, Dr Walensky said, but because “that’s a problem for other respiratory viruses, for children with asthma, for exposure to mold … there’s a lot of work we need to do in order to get our schools to a safer environment”.

The CDC guidance focused on community transmission to determine how schools should reopen.

In the guidance, a chart with four color-coded areas explained what a school’s learning environment should look like based on Covid-19 transmission rates. The CDC also said in-person learning in schools should be viewed as a higher priority than opening restaurants and nonessential businesses.

Dr Walensky, speaking on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, said that she believed it was on communities to prioritise lowering transmission rates to ensure schools could reopen.

“So I would say this is everybody’s responsibility to do their part in the community to get disease rates down so we can get our schools opened,” she said.

The agency identified five key “mitigation strategies” for officials to address when reopening schools – universal and correct mask-wearing; physical distancing; washing hands; cleaning facilities and providing proper ventilation; and contact tracing, isolating, and quarantining any cases.

Covid-19 vaccinations were not a prerequisite for teachers to return to schools, according to CDC guidance.

But the guidelines did state that teachers who are at higher risk should have the option to do virtual learning instead of in-person teaching until they are vaccinated.

“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,” Dr Walensky told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices places teachers in category 1b to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.

“I’m a strong advocate of teachers receiving their vaccinations, but we don’t believe it’s a prerequisite for schools to reopen,” Dr Walensky added.

It was ultimately on states to determine who would be prioritised in vaccine administration. At least 24 states and Washington DC have opened vaccine eligibility to teachers, though some of these states only allow the vaccinations in specific counties.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institutes of Allergies and Infectious Disease, joined Dr Walensky in saying that vaccinations were not the only way for schools to reopen safely – a perspective that’s remained controversial among some teachers’ unions.

ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos asked the infectious disease expert how he would respond to teachers, other staff members, and students who are concerned about returning to schools with Covid-19 still circulating communities.

“There’s a lot of layering to the mitigations, George,” Dr Fauci said on Sunday. “And I think the point to make, it’s totally understandable, teachers’ concern. I mean, we appreciate that. The issue is that there are a lot of things that can be done. And they are really delineated pretty clearly in … the guidelines that are coming out that would make the risk less.”

“So, vaccinating teachers are part of it, but it’s not a sine qua non. It’s not something that you can’t open a school unless all the teachers are vaccinated. That would be optimal, if you could do that,” he added.

“When you balance the benefit of getting the children back to school with the fact that the risks are being mitigated if you follow the recommendations and these new guidelines from the CDC, hopefully, I think that will alleviate the concerns on both sides.”

Some teacher unions and advocacy groups have praised the new guidance from the CDC, while others have criticised the agency for not pushing harder on getting schools staff vaccinated.

Dr Fauci was also in agreement with Dr Walensky that “schools really do need more resources. And that’s the reason why the national relief act that we’re talking about getting passed, we need that. The schools need more resources.”

President Joe Biden has pushed his $1.9tn Covid relief plan where $130bn would go towards public K-12 schools in their reopening efforts. This money would go towards more educators to help class sizes remain small, properly ventilating and cleaning schools, and providing PPE equipment to schools. Funding could also provide assistance to students who fell behind during the pandemic.

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