President Joe Biden’s administration is backtracking on its school reopening goals, but the scientific consensus on the subject continues to mount on the side of getting kids back in the classroom.
Officials at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently published a report affirming that the risk of COVID-19 spread in reopened schools is minimal, but several of the nation’s top teachers’ unions are still resisting a return to in-person instruction. “There has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission,” the CDC experts wrote.
Despite that fact, the Biden administration clarified this week that its goal of reopening most schools within 100 days simply meant having at least 50% of schools open “at least one day per week.” American schools are currently already exceeding both of these thresholds.
New: Even before White House debuts school reopening guidance, ~64% of K-8 students nationwide are already back in the classroom in some form. GOP states w/in-person learning are pushing past Biden’s goal of “majority” K-8 schools open in 100 days.@cbsnews https://t.co/fD9Oni88c8
— Bo Erickson CBS (@BoKnowsNews) February 9, 2021
The CDC report, which White House press secretary Jen Psaki emphasized was not official guidance, offered government confirmation of findings that were already widespread throughout the scientific literature. While Biden has promised to follow the science, a number of studies have suggested that reopening can occur far more broadly than the administration is aspiring for.
Researchers from York University along with public health officials in Toronto found that reopening schools was relatively safe and did not significantly contribute to COVID-19 cases surging in fall 2020. “Safe school opening is possible with stringent nonpharmaceutical interventions … school reopening was not the key driver in virus resurgence,” the Feb. 2. study found.
“Schools can open safely under strict maintenance of strict public health measures in the community,” the study concluded.
A Jan. 2021 study from researchers at Duke University and the University of North Carolina concluded that secondary transmission of COVID-19 was “extremely limited” within schools that employed standard protocols like wearing masks and social distancing. The research was wide-ranging, examining 11 school districts with nearly 100,000 students and staff using in-person instruction over a nine-week period.
“I think the bottom line is that you should be okay, even if these start to circulate even more. There’s no evidence that a variant can penetrate a mask; there’s no evidence that handwashing and distancing and masking don’t work for the variants,” Dr. Kanecia Zimmerman said.
Another paper published in Science established that the late-2020 surge in COVID-19 cases was driven by individuals aged 20-49, not school-aged children. Those researchers found that infections in schools could most easily be controlled by reducing cases in adults in the surrounding area.
“School reopening has not resulted in substantial increases in COVID-19 attributable deaths,” the study says.
While much of this research is recent, scientists were saying as early as Nov. 2020 that in-school transmission is rare, and infection rates in schools generally mirror that of the surrounding community. (RELATED: White House Announces New CDC Mask Guidance, Three New Mass Vaccination Sites In Texas)
With COVID-19 not easily spreading among minors, and teachers getting prioritized for vaccination in a number of states, the science indicates schools should be able to reopen far sooner and with more frequency than the Biden administration is publicly suggesting.