Well-Being Prevention & Cures

CDC: Rhode Island is ‘testimony’ to reopening schools safely amid coronavirus pandemic

coronavirus COVID-19 community spread u.s. centers for disease control and prevention CDCrobert redfield call rhode islands influenza vaccine schools reopening example masks face physical distance amanda dellagatta teachers students government
CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield testifies at a Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on manufacturing a Coronavirus vaccine on Capitol Hill on July 2, 2020 in Washington, DC. Graeme Jennings-Pool/Getty Image

Story at a glance

  • CDC Director Robert Redfield cited Rhode Island day care centers as an example of how schools can reopen safely.E
  • He emphasized mitigating health protocols as crucial to reducing virus transmission.

Schools should continue to aim to reopen for in-person classes, but it must be done flexibly, safely and sensibly, with an emphasis on restoring the confidence of students, faculty and parents, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield said Friday.

Redfield made the comment during a media conference, where he also added that this optimal outcome is contingent on the vast majority of Americans adhering to the well-known public health protocols. This notably includes using face masks, washing hands and social distancing, he said on a press call. 

Redfield’s optimism on school reopenings is based on a new CDC report that saw low positivity rates and secondary transmission cases in Rhode Island child care centers that reopened in late June. 


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“It does show [this is] possible,” Redfield said of the data. 

Rhode Island implemented safety measures across its school settings, including reducing attendance capacity, limiting interaction between student-teacher groups, having all adults wear masks and providing daily screenings for COVID-19 symptoms. 

Rhode Island Department of Health epidemiologist Amanda DellaGrotta said state day care providers followed the health department’s reopening plan and implemented infection control measures like increasing ventilation to prevent the virus from spreading through aerosols. Staff also increased hand hygiene and responded quickly to quarantining potential cases.

“I think this is a great example of opening in a successful way in a community that had low transmission,” DellaGrotta said.

In addition to low transmission numbers in the surrounding communities, researchers found that COVID-19 prevention measures were crucial to reducing outbreaks among children.

“It’s likely that the limit spread of Covid-19 in this instance was due to the adherence of the child care program requirements and the efforts by the state health department to rapidly investigate and respond to these cases,,” Redfield said. “This is like other instances that we’ve highlighted as an example, and a testimony to the important role that everyone can play in slowing the spread of Covid-19 in their communities.”


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Prevention efforts include wearing masks, social distancing by 6 feet and hand washing.

Redfield also encouraged people to get vaccinated against the influenza for the upcoming fall flu season, in order to prevent duel outbreaks. In an effort to get more Americans vaccinated — specifically among populations like non-Hispanic Blacks, Hispanic Americans and indigenous people who are already disproportionately affected by the coronavirus — the CDC purchased an additional 2 million doses of pediatric flu vaccines and 9.3 million doses of adult influenza vaccines.

As to whether teachers should be required to stay in classrooms if designated essential workers, Redfield underscored safe environments as paramount to inspiring teachers’ confidence in returning to work.

“I think the most important thing, in all of the school openings…is that in order for schools to reopen and stay open we have to have the confidence of teachers that it is safe for them to go back in their job, we have to have [the] confidence of parents that it is safe for their children to go to school, and we have to have confidence in students,” Redfield added.

He noted that these protocols should be developed by school districts in conjunction with CDC guidance and local health departments. This includes having a thorough plan when a case is detected in a classroom, ideally featuring contact tracing and isolation measures.

Redfield did appeal to individual Americans, asking the public to do its part to protect the vulnerable populations to help minimize the mortality rate of the virus.

“We really do need to see, you know, 90, 95, 96 percent and more embrace the wearing of the mask, the social distancing, the hand hygiene, and wisdom about how one images in crowded places,” he said.

With about four to 12 weeks of consistent mask wearing and physical distancing, Redfield anticipates the U.S. will likely see the outbreak come under control. 


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