The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated guidelines on schools reopening during the coronavirus pandemic. In the new guidance unveiled Thursday, the CDC emphasized that sending students back to school was "critically important."
"It is critically important for our public health to open schools this fall," CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield said.
The CDC released "new science-based resources and tools for school administrators, teachers, parents, guardians, and caregivers when schools open this fall." The resources, which include advice and checklists, are available on the CDC website.
"The CDC resources released today will help parents, teachers and administrators make practical, safety-focused decisions as this school year begins," Redfield added. "I know this has been a difficult time for our Nation's families. School closures have disrupted normal ways of life for children and parents, and they have had negative health consequences on our youth. CDC is prepared to work with K-12 schools to safely reopen while protecting the most vulnerable."
"Schools are an important part of the infrastructure of communities and play a critical role in supporting the whole child, not just their academic achievement," the U.S. national public health agency stated.
"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," the CDC website read. "Aside from a child's home, no other setting has more influence on a child's health and well-being than their school."
"The best available evidence from countries that have opened schools indicates that COVID-19 poses low risk to school-aged children," the CDC said on its website. "Reopening schools creates an 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."
"With states, cities, and communities around the United States experiencing different levels of coronavirus transmission, jurisdictions should ensure appropriate public health strategies are in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 as the first step in creating a safer school environment," the CDC stated.
"Children appear to be at lower risk for contracting COVID-19 compared to adults," the agency said. "While some children have been sick with COVID-19, adults make up nearly 95% of reported COVID-19 cases."
"Early reports suggest children are less likely to get COVID-19 than adults, and when they do get COVID-19, they generally have a less serious illness," the CDC continued. "As of July 21, 2020, 6.6% of reported COVID-19 cases and less than 0.1% of COVID-19-related deaths are among children and adolescents less than 18 years of age in the United States."
The CDC advised education officials to "consider community transmission risk" before reopening classrooms.
"Evidence from schools internationally suggests that school re-openings are safe in communities with low SARS-CoV-2 transmission rates," the CDC stated. "Computer simulations from Europe have suggested that school re-openings may further increase transmission risk in communities where transmission is already high."
The CDC also admitted that "there is mixed evidence about whether returning to school results in increased transmission or outbreaks." The guidance referenced steady declines in coronavirus cases in Denmark schools, but there was a "surge of new cases and outbreaks in schools after reopening and relaxing social distancing measures" in Israel.
"Then, working in collaboration with their state and local health departments, school administrators can employ strategies that best match the local conditions and actions that are practical and feasible in their schools to help protect the health and safety of everyone – including students, teachers, and other staff," the updated guidelines stated.
"Implement multiple SARS-CoV-2 mitigation strategies (e.g., social distancing, cloth face coverings, hand hygiene, and use of cohorting)," the CDC site stated. "Maintain healthy environments (e.g., cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces)."
"Plans for virtual learning should be in place in the event of a school closure," the CDC recommended.
On Thursday, President Donald Trump said that all schools should be "actively making preparations to open." However, he warned that some schools in areas with a high COVID-19 positivity rates "may need to delay reopening for a few weeks."
"If schools do not reopen, the funding should go to parents to send their children to the public, private, charter, religious or home school," President Trump said. "All families should be empowered to make the decision that is right for their circumstance."
The Los Angeles Unified School District and the San Diego Unified School District, California's two largest school districts, will not reopen for in-person instruction when the academic year starts in August, and instead will offer virtual classes.
Atlanta public schools' first nine weeks of the school year will be carried out remotely.
New York City, the largest school district in the country, may use a staggered in-person model for reopening classrooms where students attend school one to three days a week to enable social distancing. However, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said he wouldn't make a decision on reopening schools until days before the school year is scheduled to begin, which is on Sept. 10.
"The final decisions will be made as we get right up to it based on the data we have in front of us," de Blasio said during a Thursday news conference.
The United States surpassed 4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases this week and now has over 144,000 coronavirus deaths.
On Wednesday, Redfield appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America" and said that he would "absolutely" be comfortable with his school-age grandchildren attending school this fall.
"The only one that there may be some reservation is my grandson with cystic fibrosis, depending on how he can be accommodated in the school that he's in," Redfield said. "My other 10 grandchildren, of those, eight of them are school-aged, I'm 100% that they can get back to school."
Redfield also commented on the ongoing face mask debate.
"If all Americans would embrace that [masks] as part of their personal responsibility to confront this outbreak, we could actually have a very significant impact on the outbreak that we're seeing across the country in the next four, six, eight, 10, 12 weeks," Redfield explained.