Schools should reopen as soon as possible if social distancing and mask wear can be maintained to ensure the safety of in-person learning, health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a study released Tuesday. .
The research, published online in the journal JAMA, provides a framework on how to open schools safely while limiting the spread of Covid-19. The research supports “a path forward to maintain or return primarily or entirely to in-person teaching,” according to the study.
The recommendations provide some clarity on a controversial topic and offer much needed advice for local officials, school administrators and parents.
But opening safe schools also requires controlling the spread of the virus within communities, the scientists said. As a result, they recommended maintaining other rules designed to reduce transmission but which were politically unpopular, such as restrictions on indoor meals.
“Decisions made today can help ensure the safe functioning of schools and provide essential services to children and adolescents in the United States,” the scientists wrote. “Some of these decisions can be difficult.”
The researchers said that fall semester data from schools in the United States and around the world shows that schools are not responsible for the same type of disturbing outbreaks that have been reported in nursing homes, correctional facilities and “high density workplaces,” such as meat packing plants.
“There is little evidence that schools have contributed significantly to increased community transmission,” they wrote. And keeping schools closed “could harm students’ academic progress, mental health and access to essential services.”
Scientists at the CDC said that while a return to in-person learning is recommended, schools should limit activities that may increase the risk of transmission, such as indoor sports practices and competitions.
The study cited a high school wrestling tournament in Florida last month that brought together 130 student-athletes from 10 schools. The tournament became a very popular event and led to 38 infections. Through contact tracing, 41 other infections were identified and one death was reported. An investigation to track secondary transmissions is continuing, according to the study.
To protect students and teachers, scientists at the CDC said schools should require certain mitigation measures, such as wearing masks, maintaining physical distance, increasing indoor ventilation and using a “hybrid” approach that combines in-person and online learning when necessary to avoid classroom clutter. The guidelines also say testing should be expanded so that infected teachers or students can be quickly identified and isolated.