CDC director says teachers don't need 'critical' label

CDC director says teachers don't need 'critical' label
© Bloomberg/Pool

The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Friday that teachers don't need to be formally recognized as "critical workers," a designation that would potentially exempt them from COVID-19 quarantine requirements.

"I think they didn’t need to be formally recognized as critical infrastructure workers, because in fact, I think we all know they are," Robert RedfieldRobert RedfieldRedfield says he thinks virus 'evolved' in lab to transmit better Ex-CDC director Redfield says he received death threats from fellow scientists over COVID-19 theory Fauci may have unwittingly made himself a key witness for Trump in 'China Flu' hate-speech case MORE said during a call with reporters.

New guidance from the Department of Homeland Security issued earlier this week classifies teachers as "critical infrastructure workers," which means they are advised to keep working even if they have been exposed to the coronavirus, as long as they are asymptomatic.


President TrumpDonald TrumpNew Capitol Police chief to take over Friday Overnight Health Care: Biden officials says no change to masking guidance right now | Missouri Supreme Court rules in favor of Medicaid expansion | Mississippi's attorney general asks Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade Michael Wolff and the art of monetizing gossip MORE has been adamant that schools reopen for in-person classes this fall, and classifying teachers as essential workers could help keep that option on the table in states seeing spikes of cases.

However, Redfield said he did not think teachers should remain in the classroom if they have been exposed to a COVID-19 infection.

"CDC has tried to provide guidance, to have that individual basically removed and then isolated from the classroom, do the appropriate contact tracing in conjunction with the local guidance of the local health department and the appropriate disinfection," he said.

Teachers deserve to know they are working in a safe environment, he added. 

"In order for schools to reopen, we have to have the confidence of teachers that it's safe for them to go back and do their job," Redfield said. "I do think it's very important to have a well thought out, step-by-step approach to a single case versus whether there's multiple cases in the same classroom, whether there's multiple cases in multiple classrooms, and to work for the schools to then respond to those in a measured way."


The critical infrastructure guidance on COVID-19 exposure is not a mandate, but there's concern the label on teachers could be used by school districts as a way to coerce educators into working in unsafe conditions.

Experts have warned for weeks that it will be extremely difficult to safely reopen schools in hot spots, but some districts are still charging ahead — some willingly, others after prodding from state and national leaders.

Schools in Indiana, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Tennessee have shut down, at least temporarily, after finding COVID-19 in their hallways and classrooms.

Redfield said individuals need to take personal responsibility to behave in ways that can lower the levels of infection and make it safer for schools to reopen, but rejected the idea that state leaders need to mandate enforcement.

"The reality is, at the end of the day, it's up to each individual to take that responsibility to embrace the importance of wearing a mask, social distancing, washing your hands and being smart about crowds," he said.

"Absolutely no question that examples of leadership can help reinforce that," but individual leaders should make their own decisions, he added.