CDC director: Keeping schools closed poses greater health threat to children than reopening

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield said Thursday that the health risks of keeping schools closed are greater than those of opening them, amid a push by President Trump to have students in classrooms this fall.

“I’m of the point of view as a public health leader in this nation, that having the schools actually closed is a greater public health threat to the children than having the schools reopen,” Redfield told The Hill’s Steve Clemons.

The comments in favor of reopening schools from Redfield come as Trump presses for schools to reopen. On Wednesday, the president criticized the CDC in a tweet for “their very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools,” raising fears about the politicization of the country’s leading public health agency.

Redfield said in Thursday’s interview, as he did earlier in the day on ABC, that the CDC is not changing its existing guidelines for schools, but will be issuing additional guidance to provide more clarity. He said that guidance will address the role of parents and the importance of facial coverings in schools.

“I think really people underestimate the public health consequences of having the schools closed on the kids,” Redfield said at an event hosted by The Hill and sponsored by the Biosimilars Forum. “I’m confident we can open these schools safely, work in partnership with the local jurisdictions.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics has also called for students to return to classrooms, citing the educational and social harms to children of being away from school for a prolonged period of time.

But education groups like the American Association of School Administrators and the American Federation of Teachers say much more funding is needed to safely reopen schools, and that districts are already facing severe budget shortfalls due to the economic downturn sparked by the coronavirus.

Redfield demurred when asked about the need for more funding on Thursday.

“I think we’ve got to see the plans that the different schools and jurisdictions come up with,” he said.

The Trump administration has not put forward a specific plan for aiding school districts in reopening. Asked on Wednesday about what the plan is for areas like testing to help reopen schools, Vice President Pence said, “the plan is to continue to do what we have done from the very beginning,” pointing to existing testing efforts.

“I don’t think we should go overboard in trying to develop a system that doesn’t recognize the reality that this virus really is relatively benign to those of us that are under the age of 20,” Redfield said. He added that there is a need to “protect the vulnerable,” such as children with underlying conditions, as well as teachers, but did not go into detail on how to do that.

“We’re prepared to work with each school or each school district,” he said.

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Pandemic schools

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