All kids should be back in their school buildings in the fall.
That’s not merely our opinion. It’s the opinion of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In its “Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools,” published July 9, the CDC stated:
Students benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction in the fall 2021 is a priority.
Vaccination is currently the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports.
Masks should be worn indoors by all individuals (age 2 and older) who are not fully vaccinated. Consistent and correct mask use by people who are not fully vaccinated is especially important indoors and in crowded settings, when physical distancing cannot be maintained.
CDC recommends schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms, combined with indoor mask wearing by people who are not fully vaccinated, to reduce transmission risk. When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet, such as when schools cannot fully re-open while maintaining these distances, it is especially important to layer multiple other prevention strategies, such as indoor masking.
Screening testing, ventilation, handwashing and respiratory etiquette, staying home when sick and getting tested, contact tracing in combination with quarantine and isolation, and cleaning and disinfection are also important layers of prevention to keep schools safe.
In its guidance, the CDC also recommended: “Localities should monitor community transmission, vaccination coverage, screening testing, and occurrence of outbreaks to guide decisions on the level of layered prevention strategies (e.g., physical distancing, screening testing).”
That might be the part we like best: Leaving it to communities, rather than the federal government, to decide which prevention strategies work best in their localities.
As the New York Times wrote July 9: “The guidance is a departure from the C.D.C.’s past recommendations for schools. It is also a blunt acknowledgment that many students have suffered during long months of virtual learning and that a uniform approach is not useful when virus caseloads and vaccination rates vary so greatly from place to place.”
Near the start of the 2020-21 school year, the outlook was quite different. There were no vaccines yet, so while it was understood a year ago this week that the risk to children from COVID-19 was quite low, the concern was that kids would bring COVID home from school, where more vulnerable family members might reside. “The risk would not have been borne by the kids themselves, but their grandparents and other more vulnerable members of the community,” New York Magazine wrote on July 12.
That was, and is, true. But now that Grandma and Grandpa have had widespread opportunities to get vaccinated, the risk to them has been substantially diminished.
Back to the kids: This summer, we have at hand the results of studies, discussed in a report published by Nature.com on July 7, that show that the risk to kids was even smaller than expected. Even the risk to Grandma and Grandpa, as it turns out.
A study published Jan. 26 in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report dealt with 17 K-12 schools in Wood County, Wisconsin. “The research team observed 191 COVID-19 cases in staff and students during 13 weeks in the autumn of 2020, a time of high transmission for that area. Only seven of those cases seemed to originate in the schools,” Nature.com wrote.
“Among 900,000 in-school pupils learning in North Carolina last fall, researchers would have expected, based on local transmission rates, about 900 cases of COVID. There were, it turned out, only 23,” New York Magazine wrote. “In another study, among 20,000 Nebraska students attending school all year there were, in total, two cases.”
The kids were safer than we thought, even when vaccines were unavailable, to them or anybody else.
Now that their parents and grandparents have had multiple chances to get vaccinated, and so many of them have gotten the jab, the kids should be back in their classrooms when September comes around.