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What The CDC’s School Reopening Guidelines Tell Us

Health and Gender Policy # 116 |
By: S Bhimji | July 14, 2021

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Policy Summary

As the country starts to reopen, the one topic that has captured the nation is what will happen to  students. For more than a year, students have not been able to physically attend classes. While the adult American population is getting vaccinated and gradually returning to the workplace, there is no vaccine for children under the age of 12. 

Well, finally the CDC has updated its guidelines and stated that schools can reopen for in-person learning this fall for everyone. Plus, if  students and teachers have been vaccinated, there will no longer be a need for masks in the classroom.

Since the currently available vaccines are only for use in children 12 years or older, most schools can expect a mix of student bodies that will comprise mixed vaccination status. Regardless of the vaccine status of the students, the CDC has urged all schools to take primary preventive measures that ensure a low risk of virus transmission.

For students over the age of 12, the agency highly recommends vaccination as the ideal prevention strategy. But despite the urgency of the situation, rollouts all over the nation have been low. As of June 2021, less than 25% of 12-15-year-olds and just over a third of 16-17-year-olds have been fully vaccinated.

For staff and students who remain unvaccinated, the CDC continues to recommend mask-wearing when indoors and in any outdoor area where crowds are likely. At the same time, the agency has repeated that masks will be required for students riding the school bus or public transport.

Policy Analysis

Finally, the American Federation of Teachers has welcomed the new CDC guidelines. For most of the year, teachers in most states have been very reluctant to offer in-student teaching but with these guidelines, they feel more at ease. 

However, a more problematic area in schools is that of social distancing of at least 3 feet for children who remain unvaccinated. This is often not realistic in school settings and monitoring every student for social distancing can be a logistical nightmare.

Photo taken from: Wall Street Journal

However, all concerned parties agree that as long as other prevention strategies are in place then social distancing may have to be compromised every now and then. Close monitoring will be the key to ensure that infections are not on the increase.

Unfortunately, not all states are abiding by the CDC’s prevention strategies. In Texas and Iowa, school districts have been told not to make masks mandatory, a prevention tool that has been used to lower the viral spread. Even though masks have been shown to prevent the spread of covid 19 and widely used as a preventive measure, in some parts of the country  local government policies often override public health policies. For schools that do not practice masking, the CDC does recommend physical distancing.

Even though overall covid cases have dropped all over the nation, in certain vulnerable countries with low vaccination rates the infection rates have started to increase, resulting in a higher number of hospital admissions compared to  previous months.

Currently, the highly transmissible Delta variant makes up more than 50% of  cases nationwide, but the good news is that the current vaccines are all effective against this variant.

The CDC is confident that the schools can open safely with in-person learning but immunocompromised children and their families should work with their school district and determine if remote options are available. 

There is no question that in school -learning offers more opportunities for students and nurtures healthy relationships with peers and educators compared to online teaching. Only time will tell if opening schools this fall will have a negative impact on the health of  children and educators.

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