Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had already announced that it is safe to reopen schools in the United States, its director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, has backed down and claimed that “more resources” are needed to return to classes.
Walensky now joins the position of the teachers’ unions that demand more resources and to be 100% vaccinated to return to schools.
“We have work to do, especially as the country remains in the red zone of high community transmission,” Walensky said in an interview with CNN. “As that transmission decreases, we can relax some of these measures, but the real point is to make sure that the science is in line with our guidance, which is consistent with saying that until we can make sure we have all the measures in place, schools would not be safe.”
The CDC recently recommended that all schools implement the following measures to reopen their doors: use of facemasks, six-foot distance between people and that the same groups of students attend classes to limit the number of people who must be quarantined in case of outbreaks of infection. Vaccinations were not a prerequisite for teachers to return to schools.
“We need to make sure we get out of the red zones and do our part as a society to get out of the red zones to reduce transmission rates, and we need to do the work to put in place all those mitigation strategies in all these schools,” she added.
But if the country waits to “get out of the red zones,” then it appears that schools will not be opening anytime soon, as President Biden had promised in his campaign.
Approximately 99% of America’s children live in a county considered a “red” zone with high levels of COVID-19 transmission under the CDC’s new opening guidance; and fewer than 100,000 children live in a county considered “low” or “moderate” transmission where the CDC recommends that K-12 schools be open for full face-to-face instruction. Most of those students live in Hawaii or Washington.
Another broken promise?
A group of 66 Republicans recently accused President Joe Biden of rejecting the scientific consensus that schools can safely reopen.
Led by Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO), the lawmakers sent Biden a letter urging him to “follow the science” and pressure state and local leaders across the United States to reopen schools.
School closures have had a devastating effect on students, the letter adds, recalling that in Clark County, Nevada, the suicide rate among teens and children doubled in just nine months.
Although Biden had promised to open schools, the President is facing pushback from teachers’ unions, who said it was not safe to return to the classroom until everyone had received the vaccine.
Thousands of Chicago public school teachers, backed by the teachers’ union, rejected the city’s order to return to work in person. In Los Angeles, the teachers union joined the school board in pushing back against California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed school reopening plan, under which only schools that reopen for in-person learning could get their share of $2 billion in additional funding.
Experts around the world have warned against school closures noting the long-term damage that the lack of learning can pose to millions of children worldwide.
A report published in scentific journal The Lancet notes that the charity Save the Children predicted that, by the end of 2020, half a million more children worldwide would be forced into marriage and a million more girls would become pregnant as an indirect result of COVID-19.
“The cost of school closures, in terms of lost education, potential exposure to abuse and, in some countries, the premature end of schooling in favor of work or marriage could have devastating social impacts that will blight a generation of children.”
Late last year, Congress approved legislation that included $54.3 billion for public schools, a figure on top of the $13 billion provided in March 2020 to school districts through the Cares Act. “This is more than the federal government normally spends on education in an entire year,” Rubio said.
Margaret A. Honein, lead author of the JAMA report, quoted by The Washington Post, said, “The bottom line is that with the right prevention efforts we can keep transmission in schools and educational settings at a fairly low level.”
The researcher added that the studies showed that even in places with high infection rates there is no evidence that schools transmit the virus at higher levels than those observed in the community. She clarified, however, that this will always depend on continuing to take all sanitary precautions.