The top U.S. public health agency issued a full-throated call to reopen schools in a package of new resources posted on its website Thursday night that opened with a statement listing numerous benefits for children of being in school, while downplaying the potential health risks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published the new guidance two weeks after President Donald Trump criticized its earlier recommendations on school reopenings as “very tough and expensive,” ramping up an anguished national debate over the question of how soon children should return to classrooms. As the president was criticizing the initial CDC recommendations, a document from the agency surfaced that detailed the risks of reopening and the steps that districts were taking to minimize those risks.
“Reopening schools creates opportunity to invest in the education, well-being and future of one of America’s greatest assets — our children — while taking every precaution to protect students, teachers, staff and all their families,” the new opening statement said.
The package of materials began with the opening statement, titled “The Importance of Reopening America’s Schools This Fall,” and
described children as being at low risk for being infected by or transmitting the coronavirus, even though the science on both aspects is far from settled.
“The best available evidence indicates if children become infected, they are far less likely to suffer severe symptoms,” the statement said. “At the same time, the harms attributed to closed schools on the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children, in both the short- and long-term, are well-known and significant.”
While children infected by the virus are at low risk of becoming severely ill or dying, how often they become infected and how efficiently they spread the virus to others is not definitively known. Children in middle and high schools may also be at much higher risk of both than those younger than 10, according to some recent studies.
Beyond the statement, the package included decision tools and checklists for parents, guidance on mitigation measures for schools to take and other information.
The new materials are meant to supplement guidance the CDC previously issued on when and how to reopen schools, with recommendations such as keeping desks 6 feet apart and keeping children in one classroom all day instead of allowing them to move around.
The new statement released Thursday is a stark departure from the 69-page document, obtained by The New York Times earlier this month, marked “For Internal Use Only,” which was intended for federal public health response teams to have as they are deployed to hot spots around the country.
That document classified as “highest risk” the full reopening of schools, and its suggestions for mitigating the risk of school reopenings would be expensive and difficult for many districts, like broad testing of students and faculty and contact tracing to find people exposed to an infected student or teacher.