The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) unveiled new guidance on safely reopening schools amid the Covid-19 pandemic and emerging coronavirus variants.
“K-12 schools should be the last settings to close after all other mitigation measures in the community have been employed, and the first to reopen when they can do so safely. Many K-12 schools that have implemented mitigation strategies have been able to safely open for in-person instruction and remain open,” said the guidance, Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday.
The guidance advises schools to phase in their reopening plans in accordance with the severity of the outbreak in their areas. It recommends that schools adopt “essential elements” in resuming in-person learning, including wearing masks, physical distancing and monitoring the level of spread in the surrounding community.
As “additional layers” of Covid-19 prevention, the CDC calls on schools to implement a testing program to identify and isolate infectious people and vaccinate teachers and staff “as soon as supply allows”.
“Data suggest that it is possible for communities to bring down cases of Covid-19 while keeping schools open to in-person instruction,” the guidance says. “Furthermore, models of consistent implementation of mitigation measures in schools have shown success in limiting outbreaks and infections in schools.”
The CDC says the first step in considering whether to reopen schools should be to assess the level of spread in the community. The agency recommends that schools monitor the total number of new cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days in the community as well as the positivity rate.
The guidance offers a colour-coded chart that divides schools’ reopening options into four zones: blue, yellow, orange and red. Districts with low community spread of the coronavirus, which are blue with 0 to 9 new cases per 100,000 in past seven days, or moderate transmission, which are yellow with 10 to 49 new cases, are encouraged to consider reopening for full, in-person learning.
Schools in areas with substantial transmission, which are orange with 50 to 99 new cases per 100,000, may still consider a limited reopening, as long as they can layer multiple safety strategies in the classroom.
In hard-hit communities, which are red zones with more than 100 new cases per 100,000, elementary schools may consider limited reopening, with physical distancing required, but middle and high schools are recommended to be virtual-only unless mitigation strategies can be met.
The new guidance comes after CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said last week the CDC’s goal is getting children back to school with the safety of the children and the teachers as well.
US President Joe Biden has made reopening the nation’s schools for in-person instruction one of his top priorities. He pledged in December to reopen the majority of the country’s schools in his first 100 days after taking office.
However, the issue has sparked controversy nationwide as many are concerned whether it would be safe for teachers to return to classrooms if they have not been vaccinated.