CORONAVIRUS US

What is the CDC's recommendation for in-person learning for the coming school year?

There is hope that schools will return in the fall with all students back in classrooms, with the CDC advising vaccinations, mask-wearing and testing to keep it safe.

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What is the CDC's recommendation for in-person learning for the coming school year?
Stephen Lam REUTERS

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated its guidance for schools with the hope of returning to universal in-person learning in the fall. The new guidance was issued on Friday with vaccinations, mask-wearing and social distancing remaining key components of the national strategy.

The agency confirmed that education officials may need to adapt the guidance to suit the demands of the local community, taking note of the levels of infection and vaccination in the area.

In their new guidance the CDC said: “Students benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction in the fall 2021 is a priority.”

Masks should be required for anyone not fully vaccinated

As is the case across the country, the vaccination effort is the leading strategy used to keep schools safe. The CDC hope that a continuation of the vaccination campaign “can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports.”

Becky Pringle, president of the teachers’ union National Education Association, stressed the importance of the vaccine in a recent statement: "Everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated should get their covid-19 vaccination... Schools should be consistently and rigorously employing all the recommended mitigation strategies.”

If students or teachers have not been fully vaccinated for any reason then the CDC recommends that they wear a mask indoors to reduce the risk of spreading infection within the school. They say this will be particularly important “in crowded settings, when physical distancing cannot be maintained.”

While vaccinations are vital to the reopening of schools there is concern that they may be less effective if more contagious or more dangerous variants of covid-19 are discovered. Dr Nathaniel Beers, who co-authored the American Academy of Pediatrics’ reopening guidelines, said that “students are capable of wearing masks ... Should there be evidence of variants spreading, masks reduce the risk.”

Other mitigation strategies will be required to keep schools safe

Aside from the pharmaceutical attempts to stem the infection rate, other strategies will also be required. The CDC recommends that schools “maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms.”

If this is not possible due to the size of classroom available then the CDC are advising that other prevention strategies are utilised, such as indoor masking. Schools will be required to make the environment as infection-free as possible by ensuring good ventilation and frequent cleaning and disinfection.

There is also added focus placed on testing, with quarantine and isolation required for anyone who tests positive. The CDC says: “Students, teachers, and staff should stay home when they have signs of any infectious illness and be referred to their healthcare provider for testing and care.”

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has said that getting children safely back into the classroom is his agency's top priority: "Over the last year-and-a-half, a lot has been learned about covid-19, as well as the prevention and mitigation strategies that are proving effective in our fight against the virus like masking and distancing,"