Story at a glance
- Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, testified before Congress that millions of U.S. children depend on schools for their health and safety.
- He noted that reopening must happen, but be done “smartly.”
Amid national debate continuing over if and how to reopen schools, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned Congress on Friday that there could be “significant public health consequences” for students if schools forgo reopening in the fall in order to mitigate further coronavirus spread.
CDC Director Robert Redfield cited that many children receive physical and mental health care as well as meals from schools that they may not have access to at home, according to CNBC.
“It’s important to realize that it’s in the public health’s best interest for K-12 students to get back into face-to-face learning,” Redfield testified to lawmakers Friday. “There’s really very significant public health consequences of the school closure.”
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He further specified that approximately 7.1 million children nationwide receive their mental health care and nutritional support from school resources and warned that public health officials are seeing an uptick in drug usage and suicide in adolescents as the pandemic grips the U.S.
“I do think that it’s really important to realize it’s not public health versus the economy about school reopening,” Redfield said, explaining that school reopenings need to be done “smartly,” which includes implementing the current CDC-recommended public health practices in school day routines.
“We think that if you do five things, we can accomplish as much as we did as shutting down this nation,” he reportedly said. “The face mask, the social distancing, the hand hygiene, staying smart about gatherings and staying out of crowded bars and crowded restaurants. If we did those five things, we’ve done modeling data, we get the same bang for the buck as if we just shut the entire economy down.”
Schools nationwide are making the decisions whether or not to reopen largely on a county-wide basis, since some areas are seeing greater rates of transmission than others.
In California, counties placed on state watchlists, including most of Southern California, are not permitted to reopen until the amount of new coronavirus cases falls. Other locations like Chicago will be implementing a hybrid reopening model, where public schools will host in-person classes on some weekdays, and stay online for others. Washington, D.C., K-12 public schools will all be virtual for the coming fall.
While support for reopening schools appears to swell on the federal level, with President Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos advocating in-person classes, teachers nationwide have taken to protesting against reopening schools before the spread of the virus is controlled. Multiple state unions have released plans detailing reopening proposals authored by teachers, and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) — the nation’s largest union for educators — outlined conditions essential for schools to reopen safely, including utilizing facial masks, a low infection rate being achieved in the area of the school and ample federal resources to support students academically and emotionally.
“Despite the failures and undermining of safety and science by the Trump administration and elected officials like Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis, a number of states and districts, and their educators’ unions, have been focused on how to open the right way,” the AFT writes. “While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, what follows is a look at some of the practices emerging from across the country to reopen safely. We will continue to update our guidance and resources based on new developments, the experience of our members, and the latest guidance from scientists and health professionals.”
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