The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a number of insights, including the many ways in which schools are important for the health of our children. With the closing of schools to address the spread of COVID-19 infection, a growing body of evidence and expert consensus agree that in-person schooling is critical to the health and development of children. On February 12, 2021, the CDC released updated guidance pushing for reopening schools during COVID-191-2.

What is the basis for the new recommendation that schools can reopen safely?

Many studies have been published recently showing that young children (particularly those in elementary school) are not strong drivers of community transmission of COVID-19. These data suggest that it is possible to reopen schools safely, as long certain mitigation measures are in place to protect teachers, students and school staff. Such measures include physical distancing, wearing masks, improving ventilation, and a focus on effective cleaning and disinfection practices. A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) summarized the literature on COVID-19 infection rates in schools3. The authors found that in several schools in the US, school attendance was not associated with increased risk of infection in the school or in the community. Furthermore, in schools with high mask adherence, COVID-19 incidence was lower than in the surrounding community.

What is the new guidance from the CDC?

The new guidance says that schools can reopen safely and provides different strategies to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks based on several factors, including the level of community transmission, the use of COVID-19 testing and screening, and the grade level of the students. For example, elementary schools can be open for some in-person schooling even in communities where COVID-19 transmission is high. By contrast, a high school in a community with moderate COVID-19 transmission may have less in-person schooling.

Overall, the major recommendations for operating schools safely include:

With the above mitigation measures in place, CDC does not recommend that vaccination of teachers, staff, and students be a requirement for reopening. However, CDC does recommend that teachers and staff be given priority for vaccination.

CDC recommends daily cleaning and disinfecting of schools and more frequent disinfecting of high-touch surfaces

As part of a layered mitigation strategy, the CDC has recommended daily cleaning and disinfecting of schools with more frequent disinfecting of high-touch surfaces (such as doorknobs, desk surfaces, sinks and faucets, shared materials, and playground equipment). End-of-day cleaning and disinfecting may still be managed by janitorial or custodial staff members; however, teachers and other school staff will likely need to clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces during the school day. Teachers and other staff should be provided with training, materials, and appropriate personal protective equipment to clean and disinfect safely. General guidance for safe cleaning and disinfecting include:

REFERENCES

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Operational strategy for k-12 schools through phased mitigation. Retrieved February 12, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/operation-strategy.html
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Operating schools during covid-19: CDC'S CONSIDERATIONS. Retrieved February 12, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/schools.html
3. Honein, M. A., Barrios, L. C., & Brooks, J. T. (2021). Data and policy to guide opening schools safely to limit the spread of sars-cov-2 infection. JAMA. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.0374

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