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Alexi Cohan: In-person school can be done safely says new CDC guidance, not a driver of coronavirus spread
Boston Herald - 2/20/2021
Feb. 12—In-person learning using strictly enforced mitigation strategies can be done safely, according to long-awaited CDC guidance that also said schools aren't driving coronavirus transmission.
Getting kids back in the classroom can be done at any level of community transmission by sticking to five key public health measures, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention roadmap released Friday.
The strategies include consistent and correct use of masks, physical distancing, handwashing, cleaning and ventilation and contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine.
Two or more of the strategies should be layered for greatest success.
"It is critical for schools to open as safely and as soon as possible, and remain open," read the guidance.
The CDC said in-person learning has not been a driver of coronavirus spread and that transmission among students is rare, a point often reinforced by Gov. Charlie Baker and Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, but disputed by teachers.
Children can be infected with the coronavirus and spread the disease, but less than 10% of cases in the United States have been among kids and teens age 5-17, according to the CDC.
In addition, staff-to-staff transmission is more common than transmission from students to staff, staff to student, or student to student.
The roadmap provided by the CDC also includes a color-coded chart, from blue to red, on assessing community spread, including rates of new cases per 100,000 people and the percentage of positive tests.
The chart keeps priority on some form of in-person learning for elementary school students if coronavirus rates are high and suggests middle and high school students could go virtual if needed.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said in a statement, "For the first time since the start of this pandemic, we have a rigorous road map, based on science, that our members can use to fight for a safe reopening."
Extra layers of protection for schools include testing and vaccination. Vaccination is not considered a condition for reopening, however it is recommended that teachers be prioritized for vaccination following health care workers.
Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, said, "The most important takeaway for Massachusetts is that the CDC reinforces their earlier guidance that educators and staff need to be vaccinated as early as possible and that's not happening here."
Colleen Quinn, spokeswoman for the state's Executive Office of Education, said in a statement, "The new federal guidance adheres to many of the safety protocols that are already being followed by schools across the Commonwealth to keep students and teachers safe, including universal masking and testing initiatives."
Boston Teachers Union President Jessica Tang said, "Reopening, as the CDC lays out, is not a blanket order for all communities but must rely on the facts and risk levels present in each individual school district. Vaccinations are still an important part of the solution and we will continue to advocate for access to them."
Herald wire services contributed to this report.
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