CDC Guidelines Fail to Quickly Get Students Back into Classrooms | Citizens Against Government Waste

CDC Guidelines Fail to Quickly Get Students Back into Classrooms

The WasteWatcher

As more evidence is presented every day that children are not at significant risk for COVID-19 and schools are safe, parents across the country are getting increasingly frustrated that their children are not going back to in-school teaching.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) own numbers prove this, with 0-17 year-olds constituting 216, or 0.04 percent of the 507,227 U.S. COVID-19 deaths.  Adding 18-29 year-olds to 0-17 year-olds brings the number of deaths to 2,038, or 0.4 percent, while 410,192  deaths, or 81 percent, occurred in people 65 years and older.

New CDC guidelines for schools were released on February 12, 2021.  The CDC color codes the level of spread of COVID-19 in a school’s surrounding community: low (blue); yellow (moderate); orange (substantial); and red (high). 

Associate Professor Joseph Allen at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Associate Professor for Biostatics Helen Jenkins at the Boston University School of Public Health had their op-ed published in the Washington Post op-ed a few hours after the guidelines were released, stating that the CDC report should be a “wake-up” call to parents.  They declared if your children are not back at school already, they are not going back full-time this year.

The researchers argued the guidelines added “new and unnecessary demands that will ultimately keep millions of kids out of school.  In particular, there are two items that will act as barriers: the use of community-spread metrics to determine whether schools should open, and the requirement of routine screening testing.”

The researchers wrote, “If community spread is red and if schools don’t have routine screening testing in place, two conditions that exist in more than 90 percent of the country right now, the CDC recommends closing middle and high schools, unless all mitigation strategies can be strictly adhered to, and hybrid models for young learners.”  CDC’s judgment is that in only yellow or blue coded communities should schools be open for K-12 in-person instruction.

With respect to community spread, Allen and Jenkins wrote that the CDC metrics pose major problems because there is “overwhelming scientific evidence that transmission within schools can be kept low regardless of community spread, so long as good mitigation measures are in place.  It’s also clear that community spread is not an indicator of within-school transmission” and in-school instruction would have to wait until practically everyone is vaccinated before getting to a level of one daily case per 100,000 (blue) and kept at the level for several weeks before going to full in-person teaching.  They added that tying community spread to reopening schools will only delay in-person teaching and cited a study published in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) that there is “little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to community transmission.”  And while the February 12 CDC guidelines encouraged hand washing, which is “great” according to Allen and Jenkins, the guidelines over-emphasized cleaning, especially since, “There isn’t a single documented case of covid-19 transmission through surfaces,” therefore cleaning outdoor playground equipment would be a waste of time and money and have “no bearing on exposure or risk.”

Similar criticism was espoused in a March 9, 2021 USA Today op-ed by Dr. Tara O. Henderson, Dr. Monica Gandhi, Dr. Tracy Beth Hoeg, and Dr. Daniel Johnson, whose group published the study in the MMWR journal referenced by Allen and Jenkins, titled, “COVID-19 Cases and Transmission in 17K-12 Schools – Wood County, Wisconsin, August 31-November 29, 2020.”  They wrote, “The recent school reopening guidance released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is an example of fears influencing and resulting in misinterpretation of science and harmful policy.  In the United States, about half of schools are either in person or a hybrid.  President Joe Biden ran on a campaign indicating that science and data would guide his policy.  As we approach the anniversary of the first COVID-19 shut down, this approach is needed more than ever, especially when it comes to schools.”  But, according to the four researchers, many states, like California and Illinois, are being “hamstrung” by the CDC guidance.  They say the guidance “does not take into account the data we have regarding little disease transmission in schools.”

While they reiterated that even though COVID-19 death rates are low for children, and still tragic, they noted that influenza deaths experienced every year are similar.  They also pointed the mental health problems and that suicides are a leading cause of death for youth that have been exacerbated by school closures and loneliness.

The researchers discussed a study undertaken by Dr. Hoeg, “of 4,876 grade K-12 students and 654 staff members in Wisconsin school districts last fall.  COVID-19 test positivity rates reached 41.6% in the community during the study.  Notably, despite the majority of ventilation systems not being replaced, with 92% of students wearing masks (no mask wearing during recess), and with variable distancing, there were only seven students (five children grades K-six, and two in grades seven-12) and zero staff who contracted the virus in school.”  Comparable results were seen in North Carolina, South Carolina, Chicago, and other areas of the country.

The researchers from Harvard and BU, as well as those overseeing the Wisconsin study, agree that there is no science that supports the CDC guidance that children should separate themselves by 6 feet and all that distance accomplishes is limiting the number of children that may attend school.  However, there is data supporting 3 feet of distancing in Dr. Hoag’s study.  The four researchers in the USA oped wrote, “States are getting the message and passing rules allowing for 3-6 feet of spacing in schools using masking, why hasn’t the CDC?” 

In their op-ed, the researchers also pointed out that, “despite fearmongering regarding variants in America, we have not seen evidence that variants are spreading through in-person schools.  France, Spain, Switzerland and Belgium have demonstrated that K-12 schools can remain fully open safely even as the United Kingdom variant becomes dominant.”

Students are experiencing devastating consequences from being isolated from their friends and not attending school.  Grades are down, suicides are up, and those already vulnerable due to poverty, learning disabilities, and other socioeconomic issues are hurting the most, which will lead to an even greater academic achievement divide.  Pediatricians have been calling for schools to reopen for more than a year (and most private schools have been open since at least September).  In a March 5 KIRO news report, the Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics President Elizabeth Meade, M.D., said her colleagues are working hard to assist school districts and teachers to make it safe to return to school.  Governor Jay Inslee (D) signaled his irritation by saying, “If I had a nickel for every excuse I have heard for not giving our children on-site instruction, I would be a millionaire at this point.  These excuses are getting a little tiresome.”  Meanwhile, a Seattle Education Association (SEA) representative said, her union “is not opposed to going back in person, that is not what we’re trying to say at all.  What we’re saying is that the transition to in-person service needs to be grounded in equity, safety and informed consent.” 

In other words, like teachers’ unions are doing all across the country, the goal posts will be moved until teachers get what they want.  For some unions, the demands are completely unrelated to educating students, especially the July  2020 policies set forth by the Los Angeles teachers’ union:  Medicare for All, defunding the police, full funding for housing the state’s homeless population, and shutting down all charter schools that receive funding from the state.  They called for these programs to be paid for with a 3 percent millionaire surtax, a 1 percent wealth tax, and higher business property taxes, plus $250 million from the federal government.  After the CDC issued its guidelines, they were rejected by the union, whose demands included full vaccinations for all teachers before classrooms could be opened.

While the unions remain intransigent, the CDC may be getting the message that a lot of parents – or voters – are fed up with delays that are not based on the science.  On Monday, March 15, Dr. Anthony Fauci announced that the CDC will consider yet another new study, published in the March 10 Oxford Academic’s Clinical Infectious Diseases, which demonstrates that three feet of physical distancing to control the spread of COVID-19 can be adopted by schools, along with the use of masks, without negatively student or staff safety.  The study was undertaken in hundreds of Massachusetts school districts that included 540,000 students and 100,000 staff members over a period of 16 weeks.  Dr. Fauci said, “The CDC is very well aware that data are accumulating making it look more like 3 feet are OK, under certain circumstances.  I can assure you within a reasonable period of time -- quite reasonable -- they will be giving guidelines according to the data that they have.  It won't be very long.”

There still seemed a bit of bureaucratic hedging in Fauci’s remarks that gives CDC a lot of leeway to produce in a “reasonable period of time” a new directive that using 3-foot social distancing is fine “under certain circumstances.”  If past is prologue, their guidelines may not improve the situation very much.  Parents, members of Congress, and local leaders will unfortunately continue to have to work harder to get their children back to in-school learning than the unions are working to keep them at home.