CDC Director Says School Reopening 'Important for Our Public Health'

Ralph Ellis

July 24, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

With the new school year looming, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued expanded guidelines on school reopenings that stress the importance of putting children back into the classroom.

"It is critically important for our public health to open schools this fall," CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield said in a statement. "I know this has been a difficult time for our Nation's families. School closures have disrupted normal ways of life for children and parents, and they have had negative health consequences on our youth. CDC is prepared to work with K-12 schools to safely reopen while protecting the most vulnerable."

The new CDC information provides online tools to help parents decide whether to send their children back to school and resources for school administrators, such as protocols to follow if a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19 and advice on how strictly measures such as face masks should be enforced based on the level of community transmission.

Though putting children back in the classroom is emphasized, the CDC said that in the case of "substantial, uncontrolled transmission" of COVID-19, a school system should consult with local authorities on whether to reopen and might want to consider virtual learning.

Whether to reopen in-class education has become a crucial question in many communities. Many large school systems, such as Los Angeles, San Diego and Atlanta, have decided to start the year with distance learnings.

The CDC said more than a week ago that it would expand on the school reopening guidance offered in May. President Donald Trump had complained that the May guidance, which stressed social distancing and closure of communal school spaces like cafeterias, was too strict.

In a post titled "The Importance of Reopening America's Schools This Fall," the CDC said infected children are less likely to suffer severe symptoms if they catch the virus.

"The best available evidence indicates that COVID-19 poses relatively low risks to school-aged children. Children appear to be at lower risk for contracting COVID-19 compared to adults," the CDC said. "No studies are conclusive, but the available evidence provides reason to believe that in-person schooling is in the best interest of students. …"

Schools help the growth of "the whole child," the CDC said, and often provide nutrition and socialization children don't receive at home.

"At the same time, the harms attributed to closed schools on the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children, in both the short- and long-term, are well-known and significant," the CDC said. "Further, the lack of in-person educational options disproportionately harms low-income and minority children and those living with disabilities."

The guidelines for school leaders stress the need for social distancing and sanitation and suggest children be placed in pods, with the same teacher with the same group of children. Entry and exit into the school could be done in phases and outdoor spaces utilized.

The guidelines do not call for routine screening of students.


CDC. CDC releases new resources and tools to support opening schools

CDC. "School Decision-Making Tool for Parents, Caregivers, and Guardians"

CDC. "Preparing K-12 School Administrators for a Safe Return to School in Fall 2020"

CDC. "The Importance of Reopening America's Schools this Fall"