(CBS) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest guidelines heavily emphasize sending students back to school this fall, despite what the CDC described as “mixed evidence about whether returning to school results in increased transmission or outbreaks” of COVID-19. The new guidelines arrived the same day the U.S. surpassed 4 million coronavirus cases.
CDC Director Robert Redfield tweeted about the new policy, telling parents that “school closures have disrupted normal ways of life for you and your children and they have had negative health consequences on our youth.”
“It is critically important for our public health to open schools this fall,” he added. “CDC resources will help parents, teachers and administrators make practical, safety-focused decisions as this school year begins.”
One of the CDC’s primary arguments for reopening schools this fall is that K-12 students are “less likely” to get coronavirus than adults.
“Parents are understandably concerned about the safety of their children at school in the wake of COVID-19,” the new guidance says. “…The best available evidence indicates that COVID-19 poses relatively low risks to school-aged children. Children appear to be at lower risk for contracting COVID-19 compared to adults.”
The latest data on the CDC website shows that while children between the ages of 5 and 17 are less likely to die from coronavirus, infections in that age group make up roughly 5.3% of all coronavirus cases in the U.S. Black, Hispanic and Latino children make up nearly 72% of cases in that age group.
The CDC also said schools should examine rates of community transmission before deciding to reopen. The agency looked at evidence from schools around the world and found that while re-opening may be safe in communities where there are low transmission rates, European computer simulations have shown that reopening schools “may further increase transmission risk in communities where transmission is already high.”
Despite these risks, President Trump has threatened to withhold funding from schools that don’t open this fall. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said earlier this month that limiting days in the classroom “would fail America’s students and it would fail taxpayers who pay high taxes for their education.”
To help combat the spread of the virus within schools, the CDC recommended that they adopt face mask and social distancing policies. Alternative options may be considered when students are sitting at least six feet apart, are at recess or a physical education class, are in band, choir or music class, have severe breathing problems or are deaf or hard of hearing.
The guidance is unclear on how effective those steps would be, as the CDC also said that “more research and evaluation is needed.”
Parents are encouraged to monitor children for symptoms, the CDC said, and it’s not recommending that schools conduct universal symptom checks.
The CDC ultimately suggested that if schools remain closed, the risks for students contracting and spreading coronavirus are low, while the risks for students suffering academically and health-wise are high. It noted that schools offer vital resources, including food programs, special education services, counseling, and after-school programs to students. Many of these programs primarily aid low-income, minority or disabled students.
“The harms attributed to closed schools on the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children, in both the short- and long-term, are well-known and significant,” the CDC said. “Aside from a child’s home, no other setting has more influence on a child’s health and well-being than their school.”