The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance for schools on Friday, urging them to fully reopen and calling on local districts to tailor their public health measures to local coronavirus data.
The recommendations are a departure from the C.D.C.’s past guidelines for schools and arrive less than a month before the first day of school for some districts.
Here’s what we know.
“Layered” prevention strategies
The new guidance continues to recommend that students be spaced at least three feet apart, but if keeping such spacing would prevent schools from fully reopening, they could rely on combining other strategies like indoor masking, testing and enhanced ventilation. The guidance recommends masks for all unvaccinated students, teachers or staff members.
The guidance relies greatly on the concept of “layered” prevention, or using multiple strategies at once. In addition to masking and social distancing, those strategies may include regular screening testing, improving ventilation, promoting hand washing and contact tracing combined with isolation or quarantine.
It also strongly urges schools to tout vaccination, which it called “one of the most critical strategies to help schools safely resume full operations.” But a vaccine has only been authorized for students 12 and older, so a large percentage of students will not be protected from the virus.
A more local approach
The guidance acknowledges that a uniform approach to regulating schools is not useful when virus caseloads and vaccination rates vary so greatly.
The issue of school closures has been contentious and divisive since the pandemic began, and advising school districts has been fraught for the C.D.C.
What we don’t know
Though there are far fewer cases overall than during the winter peak, including in children, they have increasingly made up a greater proportion of cases as the pandemic has gone on and, recently, as more adults have been vaccinated.
Serious illnesses and death among children have been rare, and young children are also less likely to transmit the virus to others than are teens and adults.