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CDC calls for schools to cancel football, band in US schools, gets panned as 'out-of-touch,' 'unrealistic'

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Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images

Scientists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are issuing what some are saying is "out-of-touch" and "unrealistic" guidance for schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic, CNN reported.

On Jan. 6, the CDC advised that schools "cancel or hold high-risk sports and extra-curricular activities virtually" any time a community has what is considered a "high" COVID-19 transmission rate. Such activities include "those in which increased exhalation occurs, such as activities that involve singing, shouting, band, or exercise, especially when conducted indoors."

The CDC went on to note that at the time of its guidance, 99% of all U.S. counties were seeing a "high" rate of transmission.

What's the criticism?

CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen wrote, "If the scientists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had their way, to curb the spread of COVID-19 right now, nearly every U.S. school would cancel football, wrestling, band, and loads of other mainstay school activities."

Dr. William Schaffner, CDC adviser for at least four decades and infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University, has said that he believes that it is "unlikely, unreasonable, and unrealistic" to think that Americans will follow such advice in the coming days.

"Making public health recommendations — they are not a platonic idea," he added. "They have to work in the real world."

What doesn't work, Cohen said, is the "out-of-touch advice" that has been a "hallmark of many CDC recommendations" dating back to even before the pandemic, and health experts are now calling for the government agency to pick up its game.

Schaffner added that he can't fathom why the CDC would want to cancel certain extracurricular activities when all children do is shout.

"I could take you by the hand and say, 'Let's walk through three grammar schools,'" he said. "What we'd see is kids shouting in the hallways. That's what kids do."

Dr. Otis Brawley, who worked with the CDC from 2007 to 2018, told the outlet that he believes it is unrealistic to think that schools would cancel related activities.

"I really feel for the people at the CDC," Brawley admitted. "They're damned if they do, and they're damned if they don't."

School Superintendents Association President Paul Imhoff added that extracurricular activities — such as football, choir, and more — are an integral component to a well-rounded curriculum and for students' overall mental health.

"As schools are making decisions about having choir and band and wrestling, it's about making sure our kids are healthy in every way," he reasoned. "I think everyone's doing their best to take care of the whole child."

A federal health official who spoke on condition of anonymity told the outlet that the CDC needs to make better use of its own communication specialists.

"There simply is not a seat at the table for communicators when it comes to actually developing guidance," the official said and noted that CDC communication specialists would "take into account whether the guidance that's being developed is truly practical."

Prioritizing 'academics over athletics'

Cohen cited CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky's response to CNN's questioning about the recently updated guidance.

Walensky responded that the CDC was prioritizing "academics over athletics because of the increased risks involved in some extracurricular sports."

"When followed, our school guidance has been incredibly effective," she added. "In the fall, 99 percent of schools were able to remain open during the intense delta wave of COVID."

Walensky continued, pointing out that availability of vaccines for school-age children adds "another layer of protection" and "enhances the school guidance."

"[The CDC] developed our school guidance knowing school administrators, teachers and parents were looking to us at CDC to get their children back in the enriching environment of the classroom and it was a priority to get our children back to school safely," she added.

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