February 12, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a K-12 school reopening roadmap that is designed to help school systems restart in-person teaching, and to remain open. Here’s some of the science behind that decision.
The operational strategy for the phased reopening of schools across the country is based on scientific research, a concern for safety, and the consideration that many minority communities have been disproportionately affected by school closures. It provides detailed guidelines to protect students, teachers, and staff, which include in-school testing, the use of face masks, physical distancing, hand washing, and consistent cleaning. The document also clearly identifies the need for community involvement. Schools are not islands separated from their local environments.
According to the Washington Post, the CDC even has the backing of Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union.
A summary of those mitigation strategies is shown in two color-coded tables for districts with and without additional diagnostic testing at school. With around 30 cases per hundred thousand per day and a test positivity rate of 6% and falling, the average district in the US right now would be classified as yellow for “moderate transmission.”
Although the mental health toll of school closures has been well documented, many parents are worried that their kids might get sick or else help to spread the virus if they return to school, while teachers remain concerned about their own safety.
But, science has shown that if certain precautions are taken, in-person instruction can happen safely and the relatively few cases of in-school transmission that do occur can be contained rather than leading to outbreaks.
Here’s a summary of some recent findings. (Many more are listed in the references of the CDC’s Operational Strategy.)
A study in the journal Pediatrics provides an in-depth analysis of transmission during in-person learning at 11 North Carolina school districts representing nearly 100,000 students and staff. Using contact tracing, the study found transmission to be “extremely limited” when precautions were taken. Out of 805 total cases recorded, 96% of them were determined to be acquired through contact in the community and only 4% at school. Mitigation measures included frequent handwashing, social distancing, and that students over age 5 were required to wear masks.
These numbers are similar to what was found by a CDC study in a rural Wisconsin school district, where only 7 out of 191 (3.7%) cases among students could be attributed to in-school transmission. No staff was infected. Interventions to limit spread included mask-wearing, 6-foot distancing, and quarantine of anyone who might have been exposed.
But what about the large outbreak in a Jerusalem High School? As reported in the epidemiology journal Eurosurveillance, there were two major factors that probably contributed to this spread. First, classrooms were crowded. The six-foot social distancing recommended by CDC is approximately three times more space per student than the classroom densities in the Jerusalem outbreak. Second, during a three-day heatwave students were exempted from wearing face masks. These two conditions combined to create a major super-spreading event.
An article in the New England Journal of Medicine provides further rationale for keeping schools open. School children — numbering approximately 27 million — make up a significant fraction of our population. Children are also among the most vulnerable in our society. Statistically speaking, that vulnerability is compounded for younger students, students of color, those living in poverty, those with disabilities, and English language learners who may be more dependent on schools for social, emotional, mental, and developmental benefits. And, of course, all children who are not in school are missing important educational opportunities. I believe there was a time when school closure was necessary. But, now we know more about how to contain the spread of the virus. The CDC’s guidelines to safely open schools based upon scientifically driven facts should help concerned students, teachers, staff, and parents feel more comfortable. No one has enjoyed the lockdowns and isolation that are the result of Covid-19. If schools and their communities consistently abide by the mitigation strategies outlined in the CDC’s roadmap, we all may be able to breathe a desperately needed sigh of relief.
This article is auto-generated by Algorithm Source: www.forbes.com