By Holmes Lybrand and Tara Subramaniam, CNN
As the Biden administration works to speed up the country’s Covid-19 response, reopening schools has become one of the primary benchmarks of recovery. Across the country as vaccines are being administered to essential workers, often including teachers, calls for restarting in-person learning are growing more urgent.
Vaccine distribution, one of the key parts of getting schools to reopen safely, has been picking up recently, with the US averaging 1.3 million new shots per day last week, closing in on President Joe Biden’s aim of 1.5 million per day. Still, it’s early and a timeline for returning to in-person school remains a fierce topic of debate. While some states like Texas and Florida have ordered publicly-funded schools to be open, others like California and Illinois are locked in heated negotiations with teacher unions over the issue.
Republican lawmakers have renewed efforts to push schools to reopen. The House blocked immediate consideration last Tuesday of a Republican bill that would place new conditions on $54 billion in funds for K-12 schools passed by Congress in December, requiring schools to submit a plan to reopen in order to receive the majority of the money. Despite this setback, Republicans continue to call for schools to reopen.
“The evidence is clear: COVID-19 risk to kids in school is low,” Kentucky Rep. Andy Barr tweeted last week. “Meanwhile, the emotional cost to kids not having in-person learning is high.”
On the Senate floor, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell advocated for reopening schools, calling remote learning a “pale shadow of proper schooling,” and added that “all the science, all of it” points to being able to send kids back to school.
While the issue is complex and depends on the challenges different school districts face, studies — including ones from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — have shown that schools can safely reopen without creating outbreaks of the coronavirus if safety measures and precautions are followed. For some schools, like those in urban centers, ones held in older buildings and schools with large class sizes, the challenge of meeting those measures can be quite significant.
What the data shows
“There’s a lot of science suggesting that many schools can open up safely,” Harvard University epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch said, before noting that some are in better position than others.
“Vaccines are an element of this,” Lipsitch added, though he was adamant that any vaccination plan to aid reopening schools should include not just teachers but other adults involved in the school’s ecosystem.
While discussing the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines and teachers being categorized as essential workers, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a briefing last week that “there is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen” and noted that “vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools.”
During a Friday press conference, Walensky said guidance for reopening schools would be issued this week. “Our goal is to get children back to school. School should be the last places closed and the first places open. Our goal is to make sure in getting children back to school that we do so both with the safety of the children and the safety of the teachers,” Walensky said.
Studies show encouraging data on schools reopening, with low rates of Covid-19 infections. In a study published January 26, several CDC researchers examined 17 schools in Wisconsin over the course of three months and found that the spread of the virus “among students and staff members was lower than in the county overall.” Several safety measures were instituted at the school, including mandatory mask-wearing, limiting group sizes of 11 to 20 students, and social distancing whenever possible.
According to the study, only 3.7% of the documented cases of coronavirus among staff and students “were linked to in-school transmission, and all seven were among children.”
One significant limitation of the study was that the schools observed were rural and the authors noted that physical distancing might be more challenging in urban and suburban schools.
This is not to say outbreaks at schools do not occur, but as an article published in JAMA last week noted, “there has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.”
In order to prevent the transmission of Covid-19 in schools, the study recommended universal mask wearing, increased air ventilation in the schools, increased testing and “using hybrid attendance models when needed to limit the total number of contacts and prevent crowding.”
This article was originally published on Website: https://amp.cnn.com/
Author is: Holmes Lybrand and Tara Subramaniam