DAVIE, Fla. – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines on Friday saying that based on the data available, in-person learning in schools has not been associated with substantial community transmission of the coronavirus.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director, told reporters they know that some schools are already providing in-person instruction while not following the recommended mitigation strategies of social distancing, face-mask use, hand washing, and disinfection of school facilities.
“For these schools, we are not mandating that they close; rather, we are providing these recommendations and highlighting the science behind them to help schools create an environment that is safe for schools, students, teachers and staff,” Walensky said.
Related document: View the new CDC guidelines
Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran ordered schools in Florida to reopen in August, while teachers unions in South Florida argued districts needed more funding for personal protective equipment, testing, and contact tracing before reopening. Walensky said the two most important strategies to enforce in schools right now are the consistent use of face masks and social distancing.
The CDC determined teachers’ vaccinations are not a requirement to reopen schools. The guidance includes a color-coded chart that offers a phased approach based on community infection data. Walensky said high transmissions don’t necessarily have to lead to closing all schools. Elementary schools get more flexibility.
“When we are in areas of high transmission, we have pushed more for elementary school hybrid learning, Walensky said.
With partial reopenings, Miami-Dade and Broward school districts have provided diagnostic testing and contact tracing, and they are working on COVID-19 vaccine campaigns. The districts have also been reporting the names of the schools with infections.
“We accumulated experience, we have developed protocols, we have implemented preventative measures,” Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said, adding the district’s measures “are very similar if not identical to the recommendations published by the CDC.”
Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie agrees with Carvalho, and he said he hopes the new CDC guidelines will help to alleviate the fear and anxiety over transmission in schools and quell misinformation.
“If our societies did what our school districts are doing, we’ve probably had no spread of coronavirus going on in our country,” Runcie said.
Anna Fusco, the Broward Teachers Union president, said Broward County Public Schools needs to clear out inconsistencies, and have more accountability when it comes to testing and contact tracing. The union is fighting for more protections for teachers who face a higher risk of dying of COVID-19.
Karla Hernández-Mats, the president of the United Teachers of Dade, said there are a lot of protocols and procedures that the community is not following. She said receiving more resources is really important, as more students return to school.
Walensky said the new CDC guidance is instructive for this moment in time, but since the disease is not static school districts need to make adjustments. President Joe Biden asked Congress to approve $130 billion to improve safety at public schools and $35 billion for institutions of higher education.
“The stage is now set for Congress and the Education Department to make this guidance real, and that means securing the funding to get this done in the nation’s school districts and meet the social, emotional and academic needs of kids,” Walensky said.