CDC Director Robert Redfield stated on Thursday during the first White House coronavirus task force briefing held since July that schools should remain open during the pandemic, despite a number of major school districts going virtual only in recent weeks.
This week, New York City became the latest major school district to close building amid a surge in cases across the country.
“Today, there is extensive data that we have gathered over the last two to three months to confirm that k-12 schools can operate with face-to-face learning and they can do it safely and they can do it responsibly," Redfield said. "The infections we have identified in the schools, when they have been evaluating, were not acquired in schools. They were acquired in the community and the household.”
CDC data released in October indicated that children can spread the virus within schools, but children under the age of 10 were less likely to do so. The CDC’s data did not find a link between a rise in cases and schools reopening in the fall.
Earlier this week, the American Association of Pediatrics noted that over 1 million American children have been infected with the coronavirus.
"We urgently need a new, nation-wide strategy to control the pandemic, and that should include implementing proven public health measures like mask wearing and physical distancing,” said AAP President Sally Goza. “This pandemic is taking a heavy toll on children, families and communities, as well as on physicians and other front-line medical teams. We must work now to restore confidence in our public health and scientific agencies, create fiscal relief for families and pediatricians alike, and support the systems that support children and families such as our schools, mental health care, and nutrition assistance.”
Redfield and Vice President Mike Pence both incorrectly stated during Thursday’s White House coronavirus task force update that the CDC never recommended school shutdowns.
Earlier guidance called for schools in areas with substantial community transmission (the CDC did not distinguish between uncontrolled or controlled) to, "Implement extended school dismissals (e.g., dismissals for longer than two weeks). This longer-term, and likely broader-reaching, dismissal strategy is intended to slow transmission rates of COVID-19 in the community. During extended school dismissals, also cancel extracurricular group activities, school-based afterschool programs, and large events."
Dr. Elinore F. McCance-Katz, the assistant secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse, said there needs to be a focus on students’ mental health.
“We must find a way to alleviate that stress without ignoring the fact that our nation faces the very real and deadly virus,” McCance-Katz said. “The work of schools and the school personnel do daily is valuable beyond any words I can deliver. In addition to education, schools provide their children a profound sense of security and stability for the structure and safety of schools are an integral role of health.”
McCance-Katz added that teachers and staff need to feel safe when going to schools, and that communities must do what is needed to minimize community spread.
“We must use masks and we must enforce social distancing, we must employ creative and innovative ways to limit the number of children in a building at any given time. There are tools we have and we must think through help us to use them to keep our schools open,” she said.